Climate change? Harp seal’s parturition 3 months premature

On the coast of Labrador, five Harp Seal females gave birth – two to three months earlier as usual. Even native east coast inhabitants could not remember as early parturition as this year. The pups with their white baby fur were born ashore and not on drifting ice as usual. The worrying question is: is this caused by the unusual high temperatures at the East coast?  Could this already be a sign of climate change? Further premature parturition of pregnant seals could seriously endanger the harp seal population. The premature pups hardly have a chance of surviving. On the main land, they are exposed to natural enemies and human beings.

Scientists of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) are currently investigating possible reasons. ‘These deaths are small numbers in respect to the entire population’, one of the scientists, Garry Stenson, said.  The seal population is presently quite large having grown to about 8 to 9 million animals in the past years. A higher mortality rate amongst pups is not unusual but the reasons ought to be investigated.

Whether independent scientists share this opinion is doubtful.  The yearly announcements of the DFO concerning an increasing population of harp seals are merely a justification for the annual hunt on harp seals in March/April. The chairwoman of the Society for the Conservation of Marine Mammals (GSM), the marine biologist Petra Deimer, comments: ‚Climate scientists are sure, that harp seals, which love the ice, as well as ten further arctic mammals, are the losers of climate change. They need the arctic drift- and pack ice to find food as well as to raise their pups. Climate scientist mention further affected species, for instance six seal breeds, walrus, ringed seal, bearded seal, and hooded seal as well as 3 whale breeds: bowhead whale, narwhale  and beluga – and last but not least the polar bear’.

Ulrich Schnapauff (transl. Resy de Ruijsscher)