Two imperiled species of arctic seals who are suffering from the effects of climate change, disease and industrialization off the coast of northern Alaska may get some much needed help if a lawsuit to get them protected under the Endangered Species Act is successful.
This week, the Center for Biological Diversity sued the Obama Administration arguing that the National Marine Fisheries Service, which operates under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), illegally delayed listing ringed and bearded seals as threatened species.
The agency proposed protection in response to a petition in 2010 and threatened status should have been finalized this June, but it never happened. The center is arguing that the agency should be required by the court to list them now.
“The Obama administration needs to throw bearded and ringed seals a lifeline before their sea-ice home melts beneath them,” said Rebecca Noblin, the Center’s Alaska director. “Without steep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the ice seals don’t stand a chance in the long term. The plight of Arctic species like these seals demands immediate action to break our fossil fuel addiction.”
According to the Center:
Arctic sea ice melted away to record levels on Aug. 26, weeks before the minimum extent is normally reached, and has continued shrinking. At this pace, summer sea ice across the Arctic will likely disappear entirely in the next 10 to 20 years, while the seals’ winter sea-ice habitat in the Bering Sea off Alaska is projected to decline by at least 40 percent by 2050. Meanwhile, oil giant Shell has launched an aggressive offshore-drilling program in the seals’ home. Earlier this week, it became the first company to begin drilling for oil in the Chukchi Sea in more than 20 years.
Both species rely on ice to live, hunt, give birth and nurse their pups, while pups need it to be able to molt and build up enough blubber to keep them warm in the chilly water. Ring seals need ice caves to protect their young from freezing and predation.
Unfortunately, scientists believe that the rise of greenhouse gasses and other human activities are continuing to contribute to shrinking Arctic ice shelf, reports Reuters. The seals are also facing the threat of an unknown disease that has already killed hundreds of them, and is believed to be related to the stress of habitat loss. Listing them as threatened would help with several measures, which includes designating a critical habitat.
“As if losing their sea-ice home in the great Arctic thaw weren’t enough, these struggling seals now have to contend with dangerous industrial drilling and the risk of a major oil spill,” said Noblin. “Without the protection of the Endangered Species Act, bearded and ringed seals are facing a one-two punch that could put them down for good.”
If they are listed, they will be the second animals after polar bears to receive protection as a result of climate change.
A spokeswoman for the NOAA said they’re working on the listings, but declined to comment about the lawsuit. The agency has 60 days to respond.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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