The weather here in New York has been awfully chilly lately, which has inspired me to write about an arctic species today.
The Bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus) gets its name from the whiskers on its face. At maturity adult seals have brown to gray fur. They can grow to be about 7 feet long, and on average weigh 400-500 lbs . Females are typically larger than males. In terms of habitat, bearded seals prefer pack ice and shallow water depths (less than 200 meters). These seals are benthic feeders, so they typically eat shrimp, crabs, clams, and whelk. They will occasionally feed on fish such as sculpin and cod. Seals rely on ice for feeding, breeding, and resting. As of 2016 they are of least concern on the IUCN Red List.
- Bearded seals live about 25-30 years (maximum)
- Bearded seals have 4 nipples! (most seal species have 2)
- The Alaska stock is the only stock of bearded seals in U.S. waters.
- These seals are part of the subsistence harvest in Alaska
- The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act is a United Stated federal law that allows this to take place.
- The Marine Mammals Protection Act usually prohibits harassing, feeding, hunting, capturing, killing, and importation of of any marine mammal or marine mammal product.
- climate change
- ocean acidification
Note: “There is no evidence of any impact from hunting on Bearded Seal population numbers. For example, reports from Alaska Native subsistence hunters do not give any indication that Bearded Seal numbers have declined (Quakenbush et al. 2011).” – IUCN Red List
Why should we care?
There is no accurate population count at this time, but it is estimated there are about 500,000 worldwide. Bearded seals have played a big role in Alaskan native history. The loss of this species would greatly impact Alaskan culture. Not to mention, have you seen that cute face?
- IUCN Red List → the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species (watch this video to learn more)
- subsistence harvest → hunting, fishing, and gathering of wild resources for food, raw materials, and other traditional uses.