Few people know that Arctic ringed seals (Phoca hispida, aka Pusa hispida) give birth and breed in the offshore pack ice in the spring, as it is seldom mentioned by either seal or polar bear specialists.
While it is true that some ringed seals give birth in stable shorefast ice close to shore, many others give birth well offshore in thick pack ice – where polar bears also live and hunt in the spring but where few Arctic scientists ever venture – and the existence of pack ice breeding ringed seals is one of the reasons that polar bears are such a resilient species.
Ringed seal pup in a snow cave, B. Kelly photo (Wikipedia).
As a consequence, despite fears expressed by Ian Stirling, low shorefast ice and associated snow around Svalbard this winter (and any time in the past) is not necessarily a hindrance to polar bear survival because there are ringed seal pups available out in the surrounding pack ice – where bearded seals also give birth.
Of course, ringed seals pups are also available to Svalbard polar bears in the shorefast ice in the Franz Josef Land archipelago to the east (see map below) but it is the pups born in the offshore pack ice that are of interest here. The existence of pack ice breeding ringed seals may be why Norwegian biologists do not currently monitor ringed seals in the Barents Sea, despite many years of poor ice conditions around Svalbard in spring – this simply is not a species of concern.
The fact that distinct ringed seal ecotypes (or habitat-specific morphotypes) exist in the Arctic – one that gives birth and breeds in shorefast ice and another that gives birth and breeds in offshore pack ice, perhaps driven by competition for limited shorefast ice habitat – is a phenomenon a colleague and I discussed in a peer-reviewed book chapter published several years ago. Have a look at the excerpt below and see what you think.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged birth, breeding, ecotype, fast ice, feeding, morphotype, offshore ice, pack ice, polar bear, prey, productivity, pups, ringed seal, shorefast ice
Oddly, activist organization Polar Bears International recently updated their website and now suggest there is still time to save polar bears and sea ice – even though the IUCN Red List documented more polar bears alive in 2015 than at any time in the last 50 years, despite the recent decline of summer sea ice – and even more bizarrely, call for a public uprising.
Polar Bears International (with three polar bear scientists on staff and other as active advisors) suggest that people who love polar bears should march the streets on Earth Day with scientists to demand (as concerned and engaged citizens) that world leaders take them seriously.
Wow. I’ve been a career scientist for more than 40 years and I have to say, this is the oddest phenomenon I’ve encountered being advanced in the name of science. To me, it shows how disconnected these people are from what science is meant to be and what scientists are meant to do. Not just the polar bear scientists but the others like them that are behind this proposed march.
I recommend this blog post by Willis Eschenbach – an excerpt below.
Posted in Advocacy, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged climate, Earth Day, Eschenbach, facts, habitat, March, polar bear, protest, save our sea ice, save the polar bear, sea ice