Evidence from a new study found that harp seal pups in the North Atlantic are dying at an alarming rate due to the effects of climate change. The news prompted calls to Canada from around the world, telling the country it has run out of excuses to continue its annual commercial hunt that brutally kills hundreds of thousands of seals.
For decades Canada has pitted itself against animal activists using weak excuses to hunt harp seal pups for their fur in the name of conservation or economic rights, but the new study shows the seals are in a state of crisis and tosses out any of their previous justifications.
Scientists from Duke University tracked satellite records of sea ice in the harp seal breeding grounds in the Gulf of St. Lawrence from 1992 to 2010. They found the winter sea ice was thinning and decreasing in the area. Then they compared the yearly reports of dead seal pups in the region and the numbers were devastating. The study was funded by International Fund for Animal Welfare.
“The kind of mortality we’re seeing in eastern Canada is dramatic,” said David Johnston, research scientist at Duke University Marine Lab. “Entire year classes may be disappearing from the population in low ice years. Essentially all of the pups die.”
Even the Canadian government agrees with the study. The department of fisheries and oceans suspects that up to 80 percent of the seal pups born in 2011 died because of a lack of ice.
Female harp seals depend on stable winter ice floes to give birth and nurse their young. The pups live on the ice until they are big enough to hunt on their own. Seals typically seek out the thickest patches of sea ice each February and March.
Johnston explained the seals are able to adapt to minor changes in ice conditions, but didn’t know if they would be able to move to new breeding grounds, such as those off Greenland.
“There’s only so much ice out there and declines in the quantity and quality of it across the region, coupled with the earlier arrival of spring ice breakup, is literally leaving these populations on thin ice,” said Johnston.
Call To Action: Tell Canada It Has No Excuses Left For Seal Cull
Photo from claudiah via flickr.