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NOAA extends final decision on listing some ringed and bearded seals as threatened


December 12, 2011

(SitNews) Juneau, Alaska - NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service is extending by up to six months the final decisions on listing four subspecies of ringed seals and two distinct population segments (DPS) of bearded seals as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

NOAA Fisheries first proposed to list as threatened four subspecies of ringed seals - Arctic, Ladoga, Okhotsk, and Baltic - and two distinct population segments of bearded seals—Beringia and Okhotsk - in December 2010. The proposed listings cited threats posed to these populations from climate model projections of diminishing sea ice, and for Arctic ringed seals, reduced snow cover.

jpg Kotzebue Bearded Sea

Kotzebue Bearded Seal
Photo courtesy NOAA Fisheries

The agency is extending the final decision on listing for up to six months because of a substantial disagreement for Arctic ringed seals and the Beringia DPS of bearded seals, both of which occur in U.S. (Alaska) waters. The disagreement stems from the analysis of model projections of future sea ice habitat, in particular for Arctic ringed seals on-ice-snow cover, and related impacts. This disagreement extends to the magnitude and immediacy of the threats posed to these populations by the projected habitat changes.

Throughout most of its range, Arctic ringed seals do not come ashore and use sea ice as a base for resting, pupping, and molting. Arctic ringed seal pups are normally born in snow caves on the sea ice. Bearded seals also depend on sea ice, particularly during reproduction and molting.

jpg Bering Sea Ringed Seal Pup

Bering Sea Ringed Seal Pup
Photo courtesy NOAA Fisheries

The ESA allows for a 6-month extension in making final decisions on listing proposals when there is substantial disagreement regarding the sufficiency or accuracy of the available data.  This extension moves the deadline by which final listing actions must be taken from December 10, 2011, to June 10, 2012. It is not anticipated that this additional time will appreciably affect any of the populations that were proposed to be listed. 

NOAA Fisheries is conducting special independent peer reviews of the ringed and bearded seal status review reports to address the scientific disagreement, and better inform the final listing decisions. Reopening of the public comment periods will be announced in the Federal Register to accept comments on the resulting peer review reports when they become available.



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