Global Warming and Ringed Seals

Ringed Seal

Ringed seals are facing an increasingly dire outlook due to climate change.

Arctic sea ice has contracted dramatically over the last decade, and climate models predict that continuing sea ice decline may soon lead to conditions insufficient to support seals. Ringed seals seldom come ashore, depending almost exclusively on sea ice for their reproduction and livelihood.

Less ice, less seals.

Reduced Snowfall Putting Seal Pups at Risk

Ringed seals are also threatened by reduced snowfall. Their pups are born and spend the first few weeks of life in snow dens, which protect them from predators and freezing.

Diminishing snowfall, earlier snow melt, and winter rains are pushing more pups out of their shelters before they are able to survive in the open.

An additional challenge is that ringed seals have only one pup per year, making them especially vulnerable to environmental changes.

Climate Change Lands Seals on Threatened Species List

In December 2012, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that the ringed seal, as well as the bearded seal, would be listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act because of the risks posed by melting sea ice and reduced snowfall.

Fewer ringed seals could have dire consequences for the polar bear as well. Polar bears hunt seal pups in their maternity dens. However, with pups spending less time in their maternity dens, polar bears are missing an easy and important springtime prey.

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