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* Global warming disaster

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* Variation in ice cover - report

* Grey seals drown

* Warning of population decline



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Changes in Seal Hunt Regulations


Thousands of harp seal pups dead in Canada from lack of ice - global warming disaster

UNITED NATIONS - / www.MaximsNews.com, UN/ - 30 March 2007 -- Thousands of harp seal pups are assumed to be dead in Canada's Gulf of St. Lawrence due to the lack of ice floes, which mother seals require to give birth and nurse their pups successfully according to the IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) that has been undertaking daily surveillance flights over the region.

IFAW reports that the Gulf of St. Lawrence that the annual birthing ground of hundreds of thousands of harp seals is essentially devoid of both ice and seals.

Harp Seal Looks Out on Thin Ice
Seal on thin, small ice floe in Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada, March 2007. (c) HSUS

"The conditions this year are disastrous. I've surveyed this region for six years and I haven't seen anything like it." said Sheryl Fink, a senior researcher with IFAW.

"There is wide open water and almost no seals. I only saw a handful of adult harp seals and even fewer pups, where normally we should be seeing thousands and thousands of seals," she said.

The ice conditions this year are among the worst on record.

Scientists have recorded below average ice conditions in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and off Newfoundland for the past nine out of 11 years.

In 2002, 75 percent of harp seal pups born in the Gulf died due to lack of ice before the hunt even began.

This year, the ice conditions appear to be even worse than in 2002 and scientists with IFAW are concerned that pup mortality will be extremely high.

"It's highly likely that this year we could have close to 100 percent pup mortality in the Gulf of St. Lawrence due to the poor ice conditions caused by rising temperatures," said Dr. David Lavigne, IFAW's science advisor, who recently co-authored a report on the impacts of global warming on harp seals.

Experts with Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), which monitors the harp seal population and sets targets for annual commercial seal hunt in Canada, have also acknowledged the increase in seal pup mortality this year.

It is cited as one reason why the Canadian government has yet to announce the total allowable catch (TAC) or official start date of the this year's hunt, which is due to begin any day.

"It would be reckless for the government to allow the hunt to proceed this year, given the high pup mortality that has apparently occurred," said Fink.

"We may not be able to save these seals from the effects of global warming, but the Canadian government can save the survivors from being hunted. I can only hope that they will do the right thing and cancel the hunt," she said.

The Canadian government has permitted nearly one million seals to be killed in the past three years.

The government quotas have continually exceeded the number of seals that can be safely removed without causing the population to decline.

Last year, the TAC was set at 335,000 seals (far above the estimated sustainable level of 250,000) and the total number of seals reported killed was over 354,000 - exceeding the legal limit by 19,000 animals. Of the 354,000 seals killed last year, 98 percent were under three months of age.

IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) was founded in 1969 and it works around the globe to protect animals and habitats, to promote practical solutions for animals and people. Contact: Katie McConnell, Tel: 508-648-3584, kmcconnell@ifaw.org



Fisheries officials say poor ice in Gulf may affect this year's seal hunt

Published: Tuesday, March 20, 2007 | 3:37 PM ET
Canadian Press

CHARLOTTETOWN (CP) - Fisheries officials are urging seal hunters to be patient as they decide whether there are enough seals and ice in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence for a hunt this year.

Harp Seal Looks Out on Icy Water
Harp seal looks out on sea with patchwork ice floes. AP PHOTO/CP, Jonathan Hayward, March 2006

Fisheries Department spokesman Phil Jenkins says the ice is poor in the southern Gulf around the Magdalen Islands and there's a higher-than-normal mortality of seal pups.

He says it's not certain a hunt can take place this year in the southern Gulf, which is the area that traditionally gives rise to the most controversy because it is accessible to observers and seal hunt protesters.

Jenkins says ice conditions are better in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence and off the northeast coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, in an area called the Front.

Jenkins admits Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn is much later than usual in announcing total allowable catches for the Gulf regions and the Front.

He says the minister is taking his time, reviewing all of the information and weighing his options.

One seal hunt protest group, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, is already calling for the seal hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to be cancelled due to poor ice conditions.

© The Canadian Press, 2007



Variation in Ice Cover on the East Coast of Canada, February - March, 1969-2006: Implications for harp and hooded seals

February 20, 2007

by A.S. Friedlaender, D.W. Johnston, S.L. Fink, and D.M. Lavigne

These scientists examined the ice cover for the past years in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and off the East coast of Newfoundland and Labrador during the months of February and March. They found that in nine of the past eleven years, the region experienced below average ice cover. They discuss the implications of this phenomenon on the harp and hooded seals, who depend on the sea ice to give birth to, nurse, and wean their pups.

Read the article here.



Hundreds of seal pups drown in Canada storm surge

By David Ljunggren, Reuters

Fri Feb 3, 2006, 12:41 PM ET

Around 1,500 seal pups were swept out to sea and drowned by a tidal surge off Canada's east coast this week after a lack of ice cover meant their mothers were forced to give birth on a small island, environment officials said on Friday.

A resident on the island described how the mother seals had frantically tried to push their tiny pups back on to land as they floundered in the storm-tossed water.

Grey seals in the Northumberland Strait -- which lies between the provinces of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island -- usually give birth on the pack ice which forms in winter.

But abnormally warm conditions this year mean there is no ice in the strait, so some seals had to give birth on the beaches of Pictou Island. Unusually high tides hit the island this week after a major storm.

"The majority of those seals born above the high water mark have been lost. We're estimating ... that of about 2,000 pups that were born prior to the storm, we lost about 1,500," said Jerry Conway, a marine mammal adviser for the federal Fisheries and Oceans Department.

Television pictures showed dead seal pups littered on one of Pictou Island's beaches. Jane MacDonald, one of the island's few permanent residents, said the mother seals had tried hard to save their offspring.

"The mothers just push them and push them with their nose, and they dive back under and push them back up, and they get back into the tide wash, and then a big wave will hit and just sweep them back out to sea," she told CBC television.

Conway said it was not uncommon for seals in the Northumberland Strait to give birth on land.

"I've been with the department 27 years and I can remember at least half a dozens instances when there hasn't been ice of sufficient strength (for seals to give birth there)," he told Reuters from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

When seal pups are born they weigh only about 20 lbs (9 kg) and have no blubber, which means they find it hard to float.

Conway blamed the unusually high tide for the deaths, adding: "Normally, these pups would have survived."

The gray seal population in the Northumberland Strait and the Gulf of St Lawrence is around 400,000 animals.

Conway said the lack of ice cover off Eastern Canada could also cause problems for the large harp seal population, which usually gives birth in late March near the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

"I'm suggesting that unless we have a tremendous decrease in temperature and the forming of ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, we may have a repeat of this with harp seals," he said. This could mean seals being forced to give birth on beaches on the Magdalen Islands and Prince Edward Island.



Warning Issued

The Telegram (St. John's)
Mon 22 Jan 2007
Page: A1
Section: Front
Byline: Rosie Gillingham

If sealers continue to harvest at the same rates over the next few years, it could spell trouble for the herd population, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' leading marine mammal scientist.

Dr. Garry Stenson said the combination of high mortality and low reproduction rates has caused the seal population to drop by almost half a million - from 5.8 million to 5.4 million over the last several years.

Those numbers will continue to decline, he said, if the catches remain the same, forcing it to a point where it could be an environmental concern in the very near future.

"It means if we continue to take (the current quota of) 325,000 seals (each year), what we're predicting is that we've got two, maybe three, years before it becomes a conservation concern," he said.

Decline expected

Considering the high catches, the decline was expected. He said back in 2003, scientists estimated sealers could take about 250,000 seals a year.

"Well, we've been taking out 325,000 up to 355,000, but that was OK because we said we could do that for a few years on the understanding we would have a few good years, but then we would have to cut back," said Stenson, whose current research focuses on seals population dynamics. "And that's where we are now - we're going to have to start cutting back.

While Stenson is an internationally recognized expert on seal populations, he has no official say on where seal quotas are set. However, the information he provides influences government's decision.

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Loyola Hearn is considering reducing the quotas next year. He expects to make his final decision within the next week or so after he meets with DFO management.

"Now the question becomes where do we want to be in the future?" Hearn said.

Poor ice conditions have had a big impact on the mortality rate, Stenson said. It has resulted in the deaths of many pups, which have drowned..

"You start getting to the point where there's fewer young coming in. It's kind of like our rural communities in Newfoundland - the young just aren't there," said Stenson, a biology professor at Memorial University and member of the committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada marine mammal subcommittee.

"And when it really has an impact is when those young should be there to breed, which happens (in seals), on average, at around five years of age."

Other causes of mortality include struck and loss - in which sealers shoot and kill the animal but are unable to retrieve it - and fishing gear catches, in which young harp seals are caught in fishermen's gear while they catching lump fish in the spring.

Stenson said for the commercial hunt, scientists estimate a between two and five per cent loss due to struck and loss. However, he said scientists apply a 50 per cent loss in the Arctic, where data is collected and recorded in varying ways. Seals in the Arctic and Greenland, he said, are also often shot in open waters. When compiling a population model, the seals in the Arctic and Greenland are included since they are from the same population, which is migratory.

He said seal catches in fishing gear peaked in the mid-1990s, when up to 40,000 were estimated to have been caught. However, in this era, he said it's lower, partly due to the fewer nets out and the shorter fishing season.

Stenson said scientists will continue to work with sealers to monitor reproductive rates.

While official population surveys are completed every four or five years, Stenson said counts based on the population model is used yearly, based on the reproductive and catch data. The last official survey was done in 2004, with the next in 2009.

He noted estimating populations is difficult and scientists often make assumptions based on the data they can acquire.

In the end, Stenson said the goal is to try and prevent disasters, like what happened in the cod fishery.

"That's exactly what we're trying to avoid," he said. "Now, we are nowhere near where we were with cod. We still have a very healthy (seal) population.

"We just want to make sure we keep it that way."


© 2007 Transcontinental Media G.P. All rights reserved.


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