NOAA will be conducting a study this year to determine if ice seals called “ribbon seals,” which are at home in Alaska’s Bering Sea, will be listed as an endangered species.
A San Francisco-based group petitioned NOAA’s Fisheries Service in December to list the ribbon seal as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The Center for Biological Diversity’s petition states that global warming threatens ribbon seals with extinction because of the rapid melt of sea ice habitat.
NOAA’s Fisheries Service decided the petition provided enough information to indicate that action may be warranted under the law. The notice is filed with the Federal Register can be viewed online.
“In addition to reviewing the ribbon seal, we are also preparing status reviews on bearded, spotted and ringed seals for possible listing,” said Doug Mecum, acting administrator for the Alaska Region of NOAA’s Fisheries Service. “While the four species of ice seals in Alaska all utilize various types of sea ice habitats, they use the ice in different ways. Therefore, a careful status review of each species is warranted.”
The agency’s finding was based, in part, on predicted changes in ribbon seals’ sea ice habitat as a result of global climate change, the high allowable seal harvest set by the Russian federation in recent years, the potential impacts of oil and gas development and production in both the United States and Russia and the potential impacts of commercial fisheries and climate change on ribbon seal prey distribution and abundance.
Ribbon seals use the marginal sea ice zone in the Bering and Okhotsk Seas for reproduction, molting and as a resting platform. In the summer and fall, they forage in the Bering and Chukchi seas.
The service has until the end of this year to prepare a status review and make a decision about whether to list the ribbon seals, so that species will be the initial focus of NOAA experts. Status reviews of the other three species of ice seals will be completed after the ribbon seal review.