Duke University study shows young harp seals at higher risk from sea ice declines

Young harp seals off the eastern coast of Canada are at much higher risk than adult seals of stranding as the result of shrinking sea ice cover caused by recent warming in the North Atlantic.The continuing decline in sea ice in Atlantic Canada - and its impact on the survival of seal pups - has been of concern to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) supporters for many years.

Now, new IFAW- supported research conducted by scientists at Duke University has determined that young harp seals off the eastern coast of Canada are at much higher risk than adult seals of stranding as the result of shrinking sea ice cover caused by recent warming in the North Atlantic.

The study, published in the peer-reviewed, open-access scientific journal PLoS ONE, shows that strandings of young seal pups in Atlantic Canada have increased as sea ice cover as declined, whereas adult mortality has not. The study also found that pup mortality was unaffected by genetic fitness, indicating that not only the “weakest” pups are affected by climate change.

Harp seals rely on stable winter sea ice as safe platforms to give birth and nurse their young until the pups can swim and feed themselves. Even Canadian government scientists have raised concerns over decreasing ice coverage, warning that in years of extremely light ice cover, entire year-classes may be disappearing from the population.

An earlier study published last year that found seasonal sea ice cover in all four harp seal breeding regions in the North Atlantic has declined by up to 6 percent a decade since 1979, when satellite records of ice conditions in the region began.

The latest research clearly shows that the effects of climate change are most devastating for younger animals, affecting them in the crucial first year of life.

With a commercial sealing industry that is struggling to find markets and heavily reliant on government funds, it is time for Canada to give seal pups a chance, and bring an end to the cruel and unnecessary seal slaughter.

--SF

Click here to learn more about IFAW's long fight to protect seal populations.

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Experts

Dr. Ralf (Perry) Sonntag, Country Director, Germany
Country Director, Germany
Sheryl Fink, Wildlife Campaigns Director, IFAW Canada
Wildlife Campaigns Director, IFAW Canada
Sonja Van Tichelen, Regional Director, European Union
Regional Director, European Union