Arctic seals vulnerable to fast pace of change

Scientists at work in the Arctic say the pace of change there is now so rapid that some creatures might not be able to adapt.

For example, Arctic ringed seals give birth and nurse their young in caves dug out on the snow-covered ice.

Brendan Kelly: So what we’re seeing with climate change is increasingly early snow melts, causing those layers to collapse before the pups are independent, when they’re still dependent on their mothers for nursing.

That’s research biologist Brendan Kelly at the University of Alaska.

Brendan Kelly: They’re vulnerable to freezing to death when it gets cold again after the snows collapse. The other thing, of course, is that the young pups are visible to predators when they’re lying out in the open without snow cover.

Kelly said it’s hard to answer the question of whether Arctic ringed seals are in danger of extinction.

Brendan Kelly: All of the species associated with sea ice are at the very least going to have to adapt to not only a new physical environment but a new biological environment.

People living in the Arctic have depended on seals for thousands of years as sources of food and clothing. As sea ice continues to shrink and Arctic creatures disappear and interbreed, people, too, will have to adapt.

Our thanks today to NASA during the International Polar Year.

Our thanks to:
Brendan Kelly
Research Biologist
University of Alaska

March 26, 2008

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