Ringed And Bearded Seal Species To Be Protected As Endangered Species
December 23, 2012

Two Species Of Arctic Seals Receive Endangered Species Protection

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Members of two Arctic Seal species will be protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) due to vanishing ice and snow in their habitats, officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced on Friday.

The NOAA Fisheries division has declared the Ladoga subspecies of ringed seals, which live in northwest Russia, will be listed as endangered and three others, the Arctic, Okhotsk, and Baltic subspecies, will be listed as threatened, according to Dan Joling of the Associated Press (AP).

Two distinct population segments of bearded seals, the Beringia and Okhotsk populations, were also listed as threatened, he added. Critical habitat designations will be considered at a later date, and there will not be any immediate restrictions on human activities in the regions, the agency told the AP. However, all federal agencies that issue permits for or commission projects that impact the creatures must first obtain NOAA's permission.

"Our scientists undertook an extensive review of the best scientific and commercial data," Jon Kurland, the protected resources director for the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service's (NMFS) Alaska region, said in a statement. "They concluded that a significant decrease in sea ice is probable later this century and that these changes will likely cause these seal populations to decline."

"Ringed and bearded seals depend on sea ice and snow to survive," NOAA added. "After a comprehensive review of the best available science including climate models developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, NOAA has concluded that sea ice and snow cover are likely to further decrease in the foreseeable future resulting in population declines that threaten the survival of these seals."

The listings, which will become effective 60 days after the organization's official notice is published in the Federal Register, was prompted by petitions collected by and legal action initiated by the Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson, Arizona-based nonprofit organization that works to protect endangered species, Reuters reporter Yereth Rosen said. Rosen added the group is also seeking similar protection for three other Arctic species: the spotted seal, the ribbon seal and the Pacific walrus.

In a prepared statement, Alaska Governor Sean Parnell decried the decision, saying there were millions of ringed seals and hundreds of thousands of bearded seals.

His office says there is no evidence to support that either population is currently in danger, nor is there any indication they will face any serious threats in the decades ahead. His administration is reportedly considering pursuing legal action in the hopes they can overturn the NOAA's declaration.

"The ESA was not enacted to protect healthy animal populations," Parnell said. "Despite this fact, the NMFS continues the federal government´s misguided policy to list healthy species based mostly on speculated impacts from future climate change, adding additional regulatory burdens and costs upon the State of Alaska and its communities, and wresting away Alaska´s sovereign interest in managing its own wildlife and resources."