NOAA to Study Ice Seals for Possible Listing Under Endangered Species Act

By: Meteorologist Ray Hawthorne Email
By: Meteorologist Ray Hawthorne Email

NOAA’s Fisheries Service has accepted a
petition from a California environmental group
seeking protection under the Endangered Species
Act for an ice seal called the “ribbon seal” that inhabits Alaska’s Bering Sea.

“In addition reviewing the ribbon seal,
we are also preparing status reviews on bearded,
spotted and ringed seals for possible listing,”
said Doug Mecum, acting administrator for the
Alaska Region of NOAA’s Fisheries Service. “While
the four species of ice seals in Alaska all
utilize various types of sea ice habitats, they
use the ice in different ways. Therefore, careful
status reviews of each species is warranted.”

NOAA’s Fisheries Service has until the end
of this year to prepare a status review and make
a decision whether to list the ribbon seals, so
that species will be the initial focus of NOAA
experts. Status reviews of the other three
species of ice seals will be completed after the ribbon seal review.

In late December 2007, the San
Francisco-based Center for Biological Diversity
petitioned NOAA’s Fisheries Service to list the
ribbon seal as threatened or endangered under the
Endangered Species Act. Their petition states
that global warming threatens ribbon seals with
extinction because of the rapid melt of sea ice
habitat. The agency decided the petition provided
enough information to indicate that action may be
warranted under the law. (The notice filed with
the Federal Register is available online at )

NOAA’s finding was based, in part, on
predicted changes in ribbon seals’ sea ice
habitat as a result of global climate change, the
high allowable seal harvest set by the Russian
federation in recent years, the potential impacts
of oil and gas development and production in both
the United States and Russia and the potential
impacts of commercial fisheries and climate
change on ribbon seal prey distribution and abundance.

Ribbon seals use the marginal sea ice zone
in the Bering and Okhotsk seas for reproduction,
molting and as a resting platform. In the summer
and fall, they forage in the Bering and Chuckchi seas.

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