Seals and climate change

When combined with the impacts of commercial exploitation, the effects of climate change upon ice-dependent seal populations could be devastating.

Harp seals require a stable ice platform on which to give birth and nurse their pups, but with the failure of ice to form, or its early disappearance in recent years, seals face a new and grave threat to their survival. When suitable ice for birthing cannot be found, seals may give birth in the water and the pups die. If the ice is not thick enough to withstand the wind and waves throughout the nursing period, seal pups may be separated from their mothers and crushed in the breaking ice. Harp seal pups also need ice pans for resting, and without it they may succumb to exhaustion as they join the annual migration to northern feeding grounds.

In 2010, 90 percent of harp seal pups born in the Gulf of St. Lawrence are thought to have died due to lack of ice before Canada’s commercial seal hunt even began. Despite this enormous loss, the Canadian government allowed the seal hunt to proceed.

To counteract the threats of climate change and changing ice conditions and give seals a chance at survival, governments must reduce other, non-climate-related threats to seal population such as commercial hunting.