NOAA to Study Ice Seals for Endangered Species Listing

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service has accepted a petition from a California environmental group seeking protection under the Endangered Species Act for an ice seal called the "ribbon seal" that inhabits Alaska's Bering Sea.

"In addition 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 the 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, careful status reviews of each species is warranted."

The Fisheries Service has until the end of this year to prepare a status review and make a decision whether to list the ribbon seals. Status reviews of the other three species of ice seals will be completed after the ribbon seal review.

In late December 2007, the San Francisco-based Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the Fisheries Service to list the ribbon seal as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Their petition states that global warming threatens ribbon seals with extinction because of the rapid melt of sea ice habitat. The agency decided the petition provided enough information to indicate that action may be warranted under the law. (The notice filed with the Federal Register is available at http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2008/images/fedregisterseal2.pdf )

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.

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