For Immediate Release, January 7, 2021


Emily Jeffers, (408) 348-6958,

Habitat Protections Proposed for Ringed, Bearded Seals Dependent on Arctic Ice

Federal Rules Recognize Climate Change, Arctic-drilling Expansion as Top Threats

WASHINGTON— The National Marine Fisheries Service announced two proposed rules today to designate critical habitat protections for Arctic ice seals in Alaska. The new rules for ringed seals and bearded seals were prompted by a legal agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, which sued to force the long-overdue protections.

“These vital habitat protections will help these adorable seals have a shot at surviving our rapidly warming world, but we need to do much more,” said Emily Jeffers, an attorney at the Center. “Melting sea ice poses a dire threat to these ice-dependent seals. The proposed rules underscore the recklessness of Trump’s push to open the Arctic to more oil drilling. Ringed and bearded seals will disappear forever if we don’t drastically reduce our carbon emissions.”

Both of the proposed rules would designate vast swaths of the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas as protected critical habitat.

The areas proposed for protection would include waters affected by proposed onshore-related drilling activities in the Western Arctic Reserve and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which the Trump administration this week tried to auction off to the oil industry.

Both proposed rules affirm the threat posed by climate change 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 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.

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 the seals’ food on their shallow foraging grounds in the Bering Sea.

Ringed seals, which 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.

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.

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

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.