Sunday, 28 July 2013

Declining Sea Ice Strands Baby Harp Seals

July 22, 2013 — Young harp seals off the eastern coast of Canada are at much higher risk of getting stranded than adult seals because of shrinking sea ice cover caused by recent warming in the North Atlantic, according to a Duke University study.

"Stranding rates for the region's adult seals have generally not gone up as sea ice cover has declined; it's the young-of-the-year animals who are stranding (those less than one year old)," said David Johnston, a research scientist at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.
(Credit: Courtesy of IFAW)

"And it's not just the weakest pups -- those with low genetic diversity and presumably lower ability to adapt to environmental changes -- that are stranding," he said. "It appears genetic fitness has little effect on this."

The study, published online this week in the peer-reviewed open-access journal PLoS One, is the first to gauge the relative roles that genetic, environmental and demographic factors such as age and gender may be playing in harp seal stranding rates along the U.S. and Canadian east coasts in recent years.

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