Bearded seals (Erignathus barbatus)

Marine mammals 2013
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Bearded seals have a patchy distribution throughout the Arctic, occurring at low densities throughout their range. They are largely solitary, but small groups can be seen during late spring and -early summer, when they are breeding,breed and then moultingmoult/molt, and the sea-ice cover is restrictedlimited. Bearded seals can maintain holes in relatively thin ice, but avoid densely packed ice unless open-water leads are available. 

During winter, they may concentrate near polynyas or, in areas where leads are frequent, or they stay near the edges of the ice. Some juveniles perform long wanderings (Gjertz et al., 2000) and can be found far south of the normal adult range. Similar to walruses, bearded seals forage mainly on benthic organisms (Hjelset et al., 1999; Hindell et al., 2012). Therefore, they prefer to reside in drifting pack-ice over shallow water. They are largely coastal animals,; but because the Barents Sea is generally quite shallow, they can be found in drifting pack-ice far from the shore. While bearded seals in some areas are thoughtbelieved to be resident withinhave a small home range of distribution throughout the year (e.g. Eliseeva, 2008), seals in other areas are thoughtbelieved to follow the retracting ice northward during summer and backreturn southward again induring late autumn and winter. Bearded seals are hunted at low levels in Svalbard and in Russian coastal areas. The global population of bearded seals has not been assessed, but this species probably numbers in the hundreds of thousands in the Arctic. In the Barents Sea, there certainly are thousands of bearded seals, but no systematic assessments have been conducted. Declines in sea ice coverage would beare expected to have negative impacts of bearded seal abundance (e.g. Kovacs and Lydersen, 2008; Kovacs et al.., 2011a, 2012). Some ecological studies are available from Svalbard and the White Sea and. Also, there are plans to start telemetric studies –, but currently no new data is currently available on distribution or abundance.

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