Ringed seals (Pusa hispida or Phoca hispida)

Marine mammals 2013
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Ringed seals occur throughout the Arctic. They are the only northern seal that can maintain breathing holes in thick sea ice and thus are distributed well beyond the range of the other northern true seals – north to the Pole (Heide-Jørgensen and Lydersen, 1998; Gorbunov and Belikov, 2008). They are extremely dependent on sea ice, which is their exclusive breeding and haul-out platform. Typically, they prefer land-fast ice in fjords and along coastlines, with reasonably thick

and stable snow cover (e.g. Lydersen and Gjertz, 1986); but, they also live and breed in drifting pack-ice in the Barents Sea (Heide-Jørgensen and Lydersen, 1998). Ringed seals remain associated with ice year round (Freitas et al., 2008a; Hamilton et al., 2015). Their distribution and movements in summer are likely driven by food availability (primarily pelagic and ice-associated prey) in combination with sea-ice conditions (Freitas et al., 2008b; Eliseeva, 2008). The world population of ringed seals is believed to number in the millions, but few areas have been surveyed systematically, and climate change is clearly a major threat to this species. Within the Barents Sea, assessment data are only available from some of Spitsbergen’s fjords, where the west/north coast stock consisted of 7,000-10,000 animals (Krafft et al., 2006) in the early 2000s. No recent surveys have been conducted in Svalbard, and Frans Josef Land has never been assessed, nor has the Barents Sea pack-ice. Ringed seal reproduction has likely been negatively impacted during recent years with poor ice conditions in Svalbard (2006-2015); reduced habitat available for pupping is also likely to cause declines in the adult population. Redistribution and declines in abundance are expected based on forward-looking sea-ice scenarios for the Barents Region (e.g. Freitas et al., 2008b; Kovacs and Lydersen, 2008). Monitoring plans have recently been developed, but not yet implemented. Aerial surveys have been conducted for ringed seals in the White Sea, but recent results are not yet available.