To ring in the arrival of winter, this week we have an arctic two-for-the-price-of-one deal. On Friday, two species of seals were added to the U.S. endangered species list, joining the polar bears on the list of species threatened by the loss of sea ice due to climate change. The ringed seals (Phoca hispida) (photo from Paul Nicklen at http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/ringed-seal/) and bearded seals (Erignathus barbatus), protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, were this month listed by NOAA as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
The ringed seal is the smallest seal (averaging 110-150 lbs and 5 feet in length) in the arctic, feeding on fish and invertebrates. They are generally solitary animals. Females reach sexual maturity around 4 years, while males don’t mature until about age 7. Gestation lasts about 9 months, and the females give birth in ice “lairs” that they build out of the thick ice in their habitat. These small seals can live 25 to 40 years. Seal fun fact: these guys can dive for 45 minutes without a breath!
On the other end of the spectrum, the bearded seal is the largest seal in the arctic, weighing in at a hefty 575 to 800 lbs! These seals also have a lifespan of about 25 years and are thought to reach breeding age around 6 to 7 years. These seals are divers, feeding on benthic creatures such as shrimp, cod, crab, octopus, and clams. For a very cool video of the bearded seal, see this Arkive video!
Seals are an important indicator species regarding the arctic and the effects of climate change. Just another reason to get involved – write those letters and reduce your carbon footprint! Here’s a great idea from the Climate Mama blog – climate change holiday cards for our legislators!
National Geographic. 2012. “Ringed seal (Phoca hispida)” Accessed online 12/23/2012. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/ringed-seal/
NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources. 2012. “Bearded Seal (Erignathus barbatus)” December 21, 2012. Accessed online 12/22/2012. http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/pinnipeds/beardedseal.htm
NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources. 2012. “Ringed Seal (Phoca hispida)” December 21, 2012. Accessed online 12/22/2012. http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/pinnipeds/ringedseal.htm