Skip to comments.Declining sea ice strands baby harp seals
Posted on 07/22/2013 10:25:51 AM PDT by Red Badger
Young harp seals off the eastern coast of Canada are at much higher risk of getting stranded than adult seals because of shrinking sea ice cover caused by recent warming in the North Atlantic, according to a Duke University study.
"Stranding rates for the region's adult seals have generally not gone up as sea ice cover has declined; it's the young-of-the-year animals who are stranding (those less than one year old)," said David Johnston, a research scientist at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.
"And it's not just the weakest pupsthose with low genetic diversity and presumably lower ability to adapt to environmental changesthat are stranding," he said. "It appears genetic fitness has little effect on this."
The study, published online this week in the peer-reviewed open-access journal PLoS One, is the first to gauge the relative roles that genetic, environmental and demographic factors such as age and gender may be playing in harp seal stranding rates along the U.S. and Canadian east coasts in recent years.
Harp seals rely on stable winter sea ice as safe platforms to give birth and nurse their young until the pups can swim, hunt and fend off predators for themselves. In years of extremely light ice cover, entire year-classes may be disappearing from the population, Johnston said.
The new study complements a Duke-led study published last year that found seasonal sea ice cover in all four harp seal breeding regions in the North Atlantic has declined by up to 6 percent a decade since 1979, when satellite records of ice conditions in the region began.
To expand upon the earlier study, Johnston and four colleagues at the Duke University Marine Lab compared images of winter ice from 1992 to 2010 in a major whelping region off Canada's east coast, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, with yearly reports of dead harp seal strandings along the U.S. northeast coast that were grouped by gender and estimated age of the seal.
The analysis revealed a significant difference: In years when ice cover was reduced, stranding rates for younger seals rose sharply, even though stranding rates for adult seals remained relatively stable.
The researchers also compared DNA samples from 106 harp seals that had been stranded ashore with those from seals that had accidentally been caught by fishing boats in the region during the same period.
"We used measures of genetic diversity to determine if the dead seals that came ashore were less fit than the presumably healthy ones that had been caught by fishermen, but found no difference," said Thomas Schultz, director of Duke's Marine Conservation Molecular Facility. "The stranded animals appear to have come from a genetically diverse population, and we have no evidence to suggest that genetic fitness played a role in their deaths."
The analysis also showed that male seals stranded more frequently than females during the study period, and that this relationship was strongest during light ice years.
"Our findings demonstrate that sea ice cover and demographic factors have a greater influence on harp seal stranding rates than genetic diversity," said Brianne Soulen, who co-led the study while she was a master's degree student in marine ecology at Duke.
Kristina Cammen, a Duke Ph.D. student who also co-led the study, said the findings "provide more context for what we're seeing in high-latitude species in general. The effects of climate change are acting on younger animals; it's affecting them during the crucial first part of their life."
Dwindling sea ice is leaving vulnerable baby harp seals stranded in greater numbers, according to an analysis by the Duke Marine Lab and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Credit: Courtesy of IFAW
Does anybody other than whiny eco-freaks use the word "dwindling"?
Uh, it’s summer. Ice sometimes melts in the summer. Besides, how much time do these seals spend playin’ the harp anyway? We talking harmonicas? Looks like a case for “Club Seal”.
And why can’t those cameramen swoop down and save them?
Probably total BS. Scare tactics again.
Well little baby harp seals...you should have been paying attention during swimming class — Circle of life...
Minorities and poor are hurt first.
A fact about seals apparently unknown to this writer. They’re aquatic mammals and superb swimmers.
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Why does it rain and never say good-day to the new-born
On the big screen they showed us the sun
But not as bright in life as the real one
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Tell me grey seal
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The roots were formed by twisted roots
Your roots were twisted then
I was re-born before all life could die
The Phoenix bird will leave this world to fly
If the Phoenix bird can fly then so can I
**low genetic diversity**
the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) just jizzed their proverbial shorts. The little harp seals are going to be Polar Bear food! YAY! /s
Makes this easier too.
Ding ding ding! We have a winner!
Please, I’m eating Lunch!.....................
The only goal of the media is advancing the liberal agenda. Leaving the suddenly-can't-swim seals to die is better for advancing the agenda.
Opening line on National Geographic bio of the Harp Seal...
At least they won’t be clubbed (or as it is known in the hood “the knockout game”)
Great new term: low genetic diversity. I assume that is what is happening in the ghetto...... (just read the article on the loose dog who fathered 22 children to 14 women in Nashville - beginning when he was 15. He, of course, does NOT support any of them - we do.)
Where is the picture of the Kennedy granddaughter shooting seals?
Except for the grip, his form looks pretty good.
This is total BS.
Because if the cameramen DID swoop down to ‘save’ them they would immediately dive into the water and swim home
They are not ‘stuck’ here
Besides, I am sure some nice whale will come along soon and ‘rescue’ them
“.....with low genetic diversity....”
Survival of the fittest is a bitch.
gotta knock those seal brains outta the park
I don’t drink beer all the time, but when I do, I prefer drinking dos equis while clubbing baby seals to death.
stay thirsty my friends
It would be a violation of The Prime Directive; the Federation would send them to a prison planet.
OHHHH NOOOOOO, those POOOR Baby SEALS!!!!!
club ‘em. Eat ‘em.
It's nature's way of weeding out excess males, without affecting overall reproductive capacity of the population; it also allows food (fish) stocks to recover from predation by an oversized herd.
(SARCASM ALERT!) HARP (Humans Against Rampant Protectionism) released the following explanation in response to this study:
All those dark, basking bodies of the increasing population of adult seals both radiate body heat, and absorb solar heat the ice would otherwise reflect, causing increased early ice melt....