These Seals Helped Set a Precedent for Wildlife Threatened by Climate Change

Bearded seals living in the Arctic are faring pretty well right now, but climate change projections paint a far different picture of their future if they lose the amount of sea ice they’re expected to over the coming years.

Due to those grim expectations, a court ruling granted them federal protection this week. The court ruling could help set a precedent for many other species threatened by climate change.

In 2008, conservationists petitioned to have bearded seals listed under the Endangered Species Act, citing concerns about how the predicted loss of sea ice would post serious problems for them. They rely on sea ice to give birth, raise pups and rest, but it also gives them the ability to find food in shallower waters.

Without enough sea ice, bearded seals would be forced closer to the shore where they are more vulnerable to predators and farther from food sources.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, which filed the petition, winter habitat for these seals in the Bering and Okhotsk seas off Alaska and Russia is projected to decline by at least 40 percent by 2050, while summer sea ice across the Arctic is projected to largely disappear in the next 20 years.

In 2012, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) agreed there was cause to list them and bearded seals were federally protected. Unfortunately, their status was challenged by oil companies and the state of Alaska and they were stripped of protection in 2014.

This week, conservationists won a major victory after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling, concluding that the NMFS acted reasonably in granting bearded seals protection based on projections that climate change would put them at risk of extinction in the future.

“There is no debate that temperatures will continue to increase over the remainder of the century and that the effects will be particularly acute in the Arctic. The current scientific consensus is that Arctic sea ice will continue to recede through 2100, and NMFS considered the best available research to reach that conclusion,” Circuit Judge Richard Paez, wrote in the decision.

“The ESA does not require NMFS to make listing decisions only if underlying research is ironclad and absolute,” he added, pointing out that the agency only needs to use the best scientific and commercial data that’s available.

Not only do bearded seals now get federal protection back, but the ruling could help set a precedent for protecting many other species whose homes and future are in jeopardy because of climate change, including the America pika and wolverines, among many others around the world.

“This is a huge victory for bearded seals and shows the vital importance of the Endangered Species Act in protecting species threatened by climate change,”said Kristen Monsell, the Center attorney who argued the case. “This decision will give bearded seals a fighting chance while we work to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions melting their sea-ice habitat and keep dirty fossil fuels in the ground.”

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Glennis Whitney
Glennis W2 years ago

Very interesting Thank you for caring and sharing

Glennis Whitney
Glennis W2 years ago

All seals should be saved , lovely seal so gorgeous. Thank you for caring and sharing

Glennis Whitney
Glennis W2 years ago

Great article Thank you for caring and sharing

Elaine W.
Elaine W2 years ago

I will protest loudly if GOP congress refuses to fund the Environmental Protection Agency or weaken regulations as was promised. I can't believe anyone thought this was good. More education and stories like this might help.

Karin Geens
Karin Geens2 years ago

Thank you

Veronica Danie
.2 years ago

Thanks so very much!

Carole R.
Carole R2 years ago

Sweet animal. How could anyone hurt a seal or any animal?

Charmaine M.
Charmaine M2 years ago


Clare O'Beara
Clare O2 years ago

Good, no subsistence hunters need to hunt seals these days.

Marie W.
Marie W2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.