Like the polar bear, the ribbon seal may be on thin ice.
The National Marine Fisheries Service began a formal review of the species this week, after environmental groups petitioned to include the seal with zebra-like markings on the Endangered Species list.
As with the polar bear, the ribbon seal's plight is tied to the fate of the Arctic, particularly sea ice that in the summer of 2007 decreased to record-low levels. It is the fourth seal to get an Endangered Species Act review; bearded, spotted and ringed seal studies are ongoing.
In addition to the loss of sea ice, which could well be caused by global warming (though scientists caution about the many unknowns in Arctic weather and ice dynamics), seal habitat is threatened by oil and gas exploration and development. Hunting, particularly in Russia, is also an issue, as is a possible decline in seal food due to commercial fishing and climate change, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Arctic sea ice retreated to an unprecedented degree in 2007. While winter has seen ice has re-freeze, the ice today is thinner and weaker than is typical for this time of year, NASA scientists warned this week.
The process of listing Arctic species on the Endangered Species List is closely watched for several reasons. Many see it as a test of the Bush Administration's willingness to confront the realities of global warming, particularly since protecting these species might well require the preservation of vast stretches of the Arctic that oil and gas companies want to explore and develop. The government has missed several deadlines in its consideration of the polar bear, and in the meantime has approved steps toward developing oil and gas fields.
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