For Immediate Release, February 6, 2020

Contact:

Kristin Carden, (510) 844-7100 x 327, kcarden@biologicaldiversity.org

Federal Protection Sought for Rare Freshwater Alaska Seals

Species Found Only in Iliamna Lake Threatened by Pebble Mine Project

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the federal government today to provide Endangered Species Act protection to a rare population of approximately 400 freshwater seals found only in Alaska’s Iliamna Lake.

The National Marine Fisheries Service responded to a previous Center petition to protect the seals by saying a listing may be warranted, only to reject it later. But newly published science demonstrates the ecological significance of this population, and the threats posed to the seals by climate change and the proposed Pebble Mine project lend urgency to the listing process.

“Alaska’s unique and imperiled freshwater seals need federal protection,” said Kristin Carden, a scientist at the Center. “The Pebble Mine threatens the very survival of the Iliamna Lake seals and the fish species they depend on to survive. Even if the mine is stopped, climate change will drive these rare and beautiful animals toward extinction.”

The unique Iliamna Lake seal, America’s only freshwater seal, is one of only two harbor seal populations in the world living exclusively in fresh water. Iliamna Lake, Alaska’s largest freshwater body, is nestled in a pristine wildland region that’s also home to brown bears, moose and the world’s largest sockeye salmon run.

Activities related to the proposed Pebble Mine would increase ship traffic and noise in prime seal habitat, a particular problem during the vulnerable pupping period. They also would pollute the water and destroy lake ice used by the seals in the winter. In the event of a mine failure or accident, pollutants and waste from the mine would cause irreversible harm that could continue for centuries.

The Army Corps of Engineers is currently working on a final environmental impact statement for the Pebble project, which it expects to release this summer. Protection of the seals under the Endangered Species Act is not expected to affect subsistence harvest by Alaska natives.

“Without Endangered Species Act protection, we risk allowing these seals to fall victim to the world’s wildlife extinction crisis,” Carden said. “We need to do everything we can to ensure that doesn’t happen.”

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.