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Soundings Archive

NOAA Proposes Not to List Spotted Seals Under the ESA
On October 20, 2009, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service published Federal Register notice proposing not to list and protect the spotted seal under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. NMFS summarized its action as follows:

    "Based on the findings from the status review and consideration of the factors affecting this species, we conclude the spotted seal exists as three (3) distinct population segments (DPS) within the North Pacific Ocean. These are the southern, Okhotsk, and Bering DPSs. Based on consideration of information presented in the Status Review, an analysis of the extinction risk probabilities for each of these DPSs, and assessment of the factors in section 4(a)(1) of the ESA, we have determined the southern DPS is likely to become endangered throughout all or a significant portion of its range in the foreseeable future, and should be listed as a threatened species. The Okhotsk and Bering Sea DPSs are not in danger of extinction nor likely to become endangered throughout all or a significant portion of their ranges in the foreseeable future. Accordingly, we are now issuing a proposed rule to list the southern DPS of the spotted seal as a threatened species. No listing action is proposed for the Okhotsk and Bering Sea DPSs. Because the southern DPS occurs outside the United States, no critical habitat can be designated."
NMFS requested public comment on its proposal no later than close of business, December 21, 2009.

NOAA's decision came in response to a petition to list the seal under the ESA. The petition was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity. The CBD petition argued that the spotted seal should be protected under the ESA because the seal was dependent on sea ice, and climate change was melting the ice. According to CBD,
    "Spotted seals rely on the edge of the sea ice away from predators as safe habitat for giving birth and rearing their pups. Loss and thinning of sea ice and early sea-ice breakup threaten these seals' ability to successfully raise their young. Climate projections indicate that the spotted seal will lose 40 percent of its winter sea-ice habitat in the Bering and Okhotsk seas off Alaska and Russia by 2050."
NOAA agreed that the sea ice is melting, but concludes that seal will either adapt to a life on land or migrate to better habitat elsewhere. Only a small population at the southern fringe of the species' range was determined to be imperiled by NOAA.

CBD is harshly critical of the decision, and stated
    "While its rhetoric may be better, when it comes to actual action in protecting endangered species, the Obama administration is indistinguishable from Bush…. Sound science and the protection of the environment still take a back seat to political expediency."
  • Click here to read NMFS' Federal Register
  • Click here to CBD's response to NMFS' action

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