For Immediate Release, March 31, 2022

Contact:

Emily Jeffers, (408) 348-6958, ejeffers@biologicaldiversity.org

Alaska’s Ice Seals Gain Critical Habitat Protection

Federal Rules Recognize Climate Change as Primary Threat

WASHINGTON— Following a legal victory by the Center for Biological Diversity, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced two final rules today to protect critical habitat for bearded seals and ringed seals, two types of Arctic ice seals in Alaska.

“This is fantastic news for these ice-dependent seals,” said Emily Jeffers, an attorney with the Center’s Oceans program. “We can’t save them without protecting the places they live. But as Arctic sea ice continues to disappear, we need bolder action. Bearded and ringed seals could go extinct if we don’t dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and phase out Arctic oil and gas drilling.”

The critical habitat designation protects large parts of the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas as areas essential for the species’ survival and recovery. It excludes the northern part of the Beaufort Sea from the designation in the interest of national security.

Both rules affirm the threat climate change poses to the seals’ survival, stating that the loss of sea ice associated with climate change is the “principal threat” to the species’ continued existence. The rules also acknowledge that the seals are threatened by Arctic oil and gas drilling and the oil spills, noise pollution and other harmful impacts caused by these activities.

The Center first petitioned to protect both species in 2008, and the Obama administration listed them in 2012. Federal courts rejected separate oil-industry challenges to protections for bearded seals and ringed seals.

Plants and animals with federally protected critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be moving toward recovery than species without it, a Center study found.

Bearded seals, known for their mustachioed appearance and elaborate courtship songs, give birth and nurse their pups on pack ice. The rapid loss of that ice jeopardizes their ability to rear their young and is lowering the abundance of food on their shallow foraging grounds in the Bering Sea.

Ringed seals, who are covered in dark spots surrounded by light gray rings, give birth in snow caves built on top of sea ice. Global warming is reducing the amount of snowpack there, causing caves to collapse and leaving pups vulnerable to death by freezing or from predators.

A critical habitat designation will not affect subsistence activities by Alaska Native communities.

BeardedSealPup_NOAA_FPWC.jpg
Bearded seal pup (Credit: NOAA) Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.