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Less Ice Equals More Seal Strandings on US Coast

Less Ice Equals More Seal Strandings on US CoastDuring the spring season, harp seals mate on the sea ice off the east coast of Canada. They even rear their young in the same place as well. However, things have changed and many seals have been stranded along the U.S. East Coast, which is in the south of the Carolinas. In fact, they are far away from their usual habitat. Since the ice levels in the North Atlantic have declined, a great number of seals have been stuck at the beaches either in poor health or in a terrible situation. Even they have found dead on the beaches.

According to the journal PLOS ONE and Brianne Soulen, a study co-author and biologist at the University of North Texas, the decline of sea ice is partially responsible for the increase of seal standings. She also said demographic factors play a major role as a large number of stranded seals are young and about 62% of seals are male. She has performed a research on this situation while studying at Duke University.

Soulen told LiveScience, male seals are prone to get stranded because they wander around farther afield on their own. However, the study of Soulen has ruled out the possibility that strandings occur for the inbreeding. And stranded seals are more diverse than non-stranded seals. According to Soulen –”Genetics didn’t seem to have an influence”.

All snow-colored harp seals mate on the ice sea and give birth at the same place as well. After that, mothers nurse their young and try to stay with for a long time. But, after a certain age, the pups are on their own. According to Soulen, over the years, the researchers have found out that with less ice, the existing ice has become crowded. Some seals have been forced to go into the water, even though they don’t know how to navigate in the water. As a result, these seals follow the groups of fish which are moving to the south or they would become unsettled, she added.

From 1991 to 2010, almost 3,100 seals were stranded along the U.S. East Coast with some of these seals were washed and dead ashore. On the other hand, some were found to be in critical condition. They have been sick for a long time with dehydration. For almost 30 years, sea ice cover in April, which is a major time for seal pupping. According to the Cecilia Bitz, a researcher at the University of Washington, the percentage of seal pupping has declined by eight percent in the Arctic.

According to Peter Boveng, a marine mammal biologist at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, other types of animals such as the polar bears depend heavily on sea ice for surviving. But, this dependency has been threatened by the retreat of sea ice. Additionally, the threat of declining sea ice in Alaska has led two types of seals (ringed and bearded) to become an endangered species. They are not listed under the Endangered Species Act.