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Arctic seals are threatened by climate change, predators and human activities

The Saimaa ringed seal is not the only seal species suffering from global warming, as the habitat of seals living in the Arctic is shrinking as we speak, said Brendan P. Kelly, a marine ecologist focusing on sea ice environments, in his lecture on Arctic seal research.

  • Text Marianne Mustonen
  • Photos Brendan P. Kelly

Dr Kelly holds the positions of Science Director of the Study of Environmental Arctic Change, Professor of Marine Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Senior Fellow in Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

For thirty years already, Dr Kelly has spent a couple of months a year in the Arctic, living on ice and studying the life of seals. During this time, our understanding of different seal species has increased gradually, although it has been difficult to carry out a comprehensive census of the seal population. What we do know is that Arctic ringed seals number in millions – at least for now.

“Seals have existed for millions of years. They’ve made a bold evolutionary move, as leaving the water has meant being vulnerable to predators,” Dr Kelly notes.

And it is not just predators that threaten seals: humans and climate change do, too, as seal habitats are rapidly shrinking due to melting sea ice and snow. Animal extinction is nothing new under the sun, but the speed at which things are happening now is overwhelming.

“Greenhouse gases are increasing and causing our climate to warm.  In the Arctic, warming takes place more than twice as fast as the global average. The ice cover is like a huge mirror that reflects sunlight back into space, and once that’s gone, the dark ocean water warms faster and faster,” Dr Kelly says.

Half the Arctic ice cover has already disappeared.

Brendan P. Kelly

Principal Investigator and Science Director, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Brendan P. Kelly.
In the photo: Brendan P. Kelly.