“Harp seals aren’t endangered right now, so we’re not worried they’re going to disappear off the face of the earth . . .” (Johnson)
Over the past 60 years, harp seal populations have diminished by 90%. At what point do we begin to worry? When the population has diminished by 100%?
Harp seals have always been an abundant species. So abundant, that there is an annual seal hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to keep their numbers under control. The annual seal hunt has been canceled for the past two years- not in consideration of the decreasing harp seal numbers, but as a result of the diminishing ice cover.
Sea ice is shrinking by 6% each year and there is no question as to why: climate change. The rising temperatures make for more storms and warmer water- two variables that affect the thickness and range of ice formation. The ice now looks like this.
You may be wondering how the lack of ice affects seals. Seals swim, don’t they? Yes, adult seals can swim, however, seal pups cannot. Seal pups are born on the ice because they cannot swim for the first two weeks of their life. If there is no ice to give birth on, what will become of the seal pups? Only 25% of seal pups survived in 2007, and even less survived in 2010. Do you still believe that there is nothing to worry about?
“We should control what we can control. We can’t control the reproductive biology of seals, or where and how ice forms in their breeding habitats from year to year. What we can control is human behavior.” (Johnson)
Johnson is referring to the seal hunt here. Quite frankly, it seems to me like the annual seal hunt has only been called off due to the lack of ice, and not because of the perishing harp seals. Currently, the population of harp seals appear to be abundant in numbers, but what will happen in 10 years, when the adult seals die off, and there are no pups for the next generation?
Harp seals have been seen much farther south of their normal habitat in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Scientists believe that this could be because their normal breeding grounds aren’t of favourable conditions, or the changing climate triggers early migratory patterns.
Efforts to save the seal pups have been noted by humans. There are organizations dedicated to putting an end to the annual seal hunt for good, which has gotten a lot of positive feedback. One person in particular, one who they call baby seal man, actually lived among the seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. His preservation methods were thought to be controversial, as he fought off hunters and killer whales in an attempt to save these seal pups.
“Harp seals aren’t endangered. So often, we wait until a population is depleted to do anything, and it’s often too late. Here, we have a possibility of getting in front of it and predicting what might happen.” (Johnson)
What will you do?