Harp seal pups are dying off at dramatic rates in Eastern Canada. The culprit? Climate change, once again. A recent report in the science journal PLoS One revealed that disappearing seal habitat has resulted in a spike in the mortality rate of harp seal pups. Research conducted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which is a prime spot for harp seal breeding, has shown that lower sea ice rates correspond to higher reports of dead stranded seal pups in the area. Less ice, less seals.
“The kind of mortality we’re seeing in Eastern Canada is dramatic,” David Johnston, co-author and a research scientist at the Duke University Marine Lab, states. “Entire year-classes may be disappearing from the population in low ice years – essentially all of the pups die. It calls into question the resilience of the population.”
“As a species, they’re well suited to deal with natural short-term shifts in climate,” he continues. “But our research suggests they may not be well adapted to absorb the effects of short-term variability combined with longer-term climate change and other human influences such as hunting and bycatch.”