The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has denied protection for spotted seal populations in Alaskan waters. NMFS did, however, formalize protection for smaller populations of spotted seals in Liaodong Bay, China and Peter the Great Bay, Russia. This region is home to a population of approximately 3,300 seals.
Spotted seals primarily inhabit waters of the north Pacific Ocean and adjacent seas. During their breeding season, they are often spotted in the outer areas of ice flows, where they use the edge of the sea ice away from predators as safe habitat breeding in winter and spring. They face threats from sea-ice loss due to climate change, which melts the ice that they depend on for giving birth, nursing pups, resting and molting. Climate change also depletes spotted seal prey through ocean acidification.
This decision reaffirmed NMFS’s denial of protection to a significant population of spotted seals inhabiting Alaskan and Russian waters. There are approximately 100,000 seals in this region of the Bering Sea near Kamchatka, in the Gulf of Anadyr in Russia, and in the eastern Bering Sea in Alaskan waters. NMFS stated that sea-ice loss does not threaten these populations because they will either adapt to life on land or migrate to suitable habitat elsewhere.
The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition (PDF) to protect spotted seals, bearded seals, and ringed seals in May 2008. NMFS is required to make a finding regarding protection for ringed and bearded seals by the end of the year.