A new study says that thinning sea ice in the north Atlantic has caused a catastrophic decline in harp seal populations, a trend animal advocacy groups say should
spur an end to commercial hunts of the animal in Canada. According to the study, conducted by scientists at Duke University and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, sea ice cover in all harp seal breeding regions has declined by as much as 6 percent per decade since 1979. Since female seal pups depend on stable winter ice to give birth and nurse their young, these changing conditions have produced a higher mortality, said David Johnston of the Duke University Marine Laboratory and lead author of the study, which was published in the journal PLoS ONE. “Entire year classes may be disappearing from the population in low ice years” Johnston said. “Essentially all of the pups die.” According to Canada’s Fisheries and Oceans department, as many as 80 percent of seal pups born in 2011 may have died because of a lack of sea ice.