WASHINGTON (CN) - The delay and decline in arctic sea ice formation as a result of global warming threatens bearded and ringed seals with extinction across their range, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.
It has determined that listing most populations of the two species as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act is warranted.
The agency conducted a 12 month review of the status of both species, and had previously performed a similar review of the spotted seal, in response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity which argued that habitat loss due to global warming threatened all ice dependent seals.
In its review, the agency relied on climate projections from the Fourth Assessment Report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which predict that by 2050 November sea ice formation in areas inhabited by both species will be 50 percent lower than current conditions.
The agency's models predict wide geographic disparity, with year round ice free zones in parts of the Arctic, and much diminished ice pack lasting for only a few months, closer to land masses.
Both species use snow drifts on sea ice to create birthing and whelping dens for pups and the predicted decline in ice formation is accompanied by a decline in average snow fall for the rest of the century, reaching the point around 2050 when ringed seals will no longer be able to build dens in their current range.
The bearded seal is the largest of seals dependent on northern sea ice formation, with adults reaching nearly 800 pounds. The ringed seal is the smallest, with adults averaging just over 150 pounds.
The agency requests public input on listing the two species as threatened, and is specifically interested in information related to developing critical habitat designations for the seals.