The Animal: Thebearded seal is scientifically known as Erignathusbarbatus. The word barbatus, which is the species of the seal, meansbearded which is why this seal is called the bearded seal. Erignathus barbatus is called barbatus because of its thickwhiskers and “beard”. The young of bearded seals are simply called bearded sealpups.
The genus name Erignathus is also exclusive to the bearded seals. Thefamily name Phocidae means that these are considered “true seals”, which means theyhave flippers that are specialized for swimming and they do not have externalears. Other “true seals” include the hooded seal, the bearded seal, and theleopard seal. Seals are then part of the order Carnivora which means they aremeat eaters. From Carnivora they are part of the class Mammalia which meansseals are vertebrates, that have skin covered with fur, and they feed theiryoung with milk produced in their bodies. Seals are part of the phylum Chordatameaning they have a spinal cord. Finally, bearded seals are part of the kingdomAnimalia which classifies them as animals.Bearded seals are,on average, 2.
3 meters long and can weigh up to 250 kg. Males are known to besmaller than female bearded seals. Bearded seals can have light grey or darkbrown hair with their back being typically darker than their fronts. Theflippers and face of bearded seal are usually a rust brown color.
The flippersof the bearded seal are known to be square shaped and their heads are small fortheir bodies. Their head is considered only proportionally small because thebody of the bearded seal is so long. The distinguishing factor between thebearded seal and the rest of the species of seal is that bearded seals havetheir signature mustache. Most other seals do not have whiskers as thick as thebearded seal, hence the name. ! Bearded seals have small ear holes and anotherset of flippers that face backwards to propel them effortlessly through thewater. Although bearded sealscan swim with ease, the flippers they have make it difficult for them to moveon land very easily. This is a difference between true seals and other speciesof seal. In the water, they are exceptionally fast which helps them to catchprey and to escape predators.
Bearded seals can dive to up to 200 meters to getfood. They eat mostly mollusks and crustaceans but they will also eat somespecies of fish such as the arctic cods or flatfishes.Erignathus barbatus are found mainly in the Arctic Ocean. In thesewaters two subspecies of E. barbatusare found: E. barbatus barbatus and E.
barbatus nauticus. E.b. barbatus isfound in the Arctic that is near the Atlantic Ocean and E.b.
nauticus is found off the shores of Canada and around Norway.Although they tend to stay in the north, some bearded seals have been seen offthe shores of Japan. Bearded seals also tend to like living in shallow water upto 200 meters so they have easier access to their main food sources. Bearded seals prefer tolive where there are large areas of sea ice.
Packs of sea ice are also referredto as ice floes. Bearded seals migrate depending on the direction and speed ofthe ice floes. During the winter months, the seals will follow ice floes southand they will follow them north in the summer. Bearded seals ride the ice floesto help them access shallow waters to give them more access to their foodsources. In the summer months, if there is a lack of ice floes bearded sealswill just lay on gravel beaches and land.
Status: Forthe bearded seal, it is not clear whether they should be classified as threatenedor endangered. In 2008 the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) started toinvestigate what the status of this species is. The same year the NationalOceanic and Atmospheric Administration also received a petition to review thebearded seal to be listed as either threatened or endangered. According to theUnited States Endangered Species Act and endangered species is classified as “anyspecies which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significantportion of its range” and a threatened species is seen as “any species which islikely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughoutall or a significant portion of its range”.
In both circumstances, the beardedseal was put under review because the threat of climate change is becoming abigger problem for the habitat of the bearded seal. The increase in globaltemperatures is causing the sea ice to melt which is where bearded seals spendmost of their time. The NMFS created a Biological Review Team (BRT) to furtherinvestigate the status of the bearded seal. The BRT has investigated multiplepossible threats to bearded seals: current/future destruction/modification ofthe species habitat, overused for educational or recreational purposes, diseaseor over predation, and other human or natural factors. Thehabitat of the bearded seal is the main concern of the NMFS. Globaltemperatures are already considerably high and are only expected to continuerising in the foreseeable future. The melting of the sea ice is a huge concernbecause the seals use the sea ice for whelping and nursing their young.
Alongwith the rise of global temperatures, the increase of carbon dioxide emissionswill cause the water to become more acidic which will cause trouble in variousaspects of the bearded seal habitat such as their prey populations. Higheroceanic acidity will disrupt the trophic levels and cause different animals tolive at different depths. This area is the most threatening to the beardedseals Theoveruse of seals for educational or recreational purposes is not a large threatand is not predicted to become a significant threat. The biggest area of threatin this category is the natives of the Arctic which have used and continue touse bearded seals for their skin and blubber. This threat is still notpredicted to make a big enough change in bearded seal population.
Manydifferent diseases have been known to occur in bearded seals. With climatechange, there comes a risk of the seals being exposed to new diseases thattheir bodies may not be able to handle. As climate change continues the polarbear, the major predator of the bearded seal, may also become endangeredcausing the level of predation to decrease from polar bears. However, thepredation of bearded seals by other predators such as killer whales or sharksmay increase. Humanactivity and contamination is another area in which the BRT investigated.
Oiland gas spills or large shipping vessels have the potential to impact thebearded seal populations. These factors were seen as less significant to thestatus of bearded seals compared to the risk that climate change has on theseals. Thepopulation size of the bearded seal is about 188,000 which is a dramatic changefrom the estimated 450,000 in the 1980s. It is hard to tell the actualpopulation of this species because they are all so widespread so it isdifficult to survey them.
With future sea ice melting the approximatepopulation is expected to drop dramatically. As of now the breaded seals arenot fully listed as endangered or threatened but cases are still being made forthem to be included. The status of the bearded seal is expected to range frommedium to highly threatened in the near future. Reestablishment: Inthe US, the hunting of bearded seals is prohibited unless it is by and Alaskannative who needs the materials of the seal to survive. The Canadian governmenthas the hunting of bearded seals managed by the Department of Fisheries andOceans and other regional resource boards across the country. In Norway, onlylicensed hunters can shoot bearded seals in certain areas during certain timesof the year.
Russia allows forsubsistence harvesting of bearded seals for the aboriginal Russian people butthere is only a certain amount they are allowed to catch per year. Russia isthe only country that allows the hunting of bearded seals but has a limit. Sincebearded seals are not in severe danger of extinction they are allowed to roamfree in the wild. If the population starts to really dwindle then they would bebrought into captivity to try to reestablish a smaller population. The onlyobstacles that governments are facing is the problem in controlling climatechange. If climate changer were to be brought under control the question of thebearded seals being endangered in the future would not be such a big question. Eventhough they supported the bearded seals be listed as threatened, recentevaluations by the BRT have determined that bearded seals have bounced betweenmultiple ice ages and warmer interglacial periods. The population of thebearded seal is remaining the same if not growing slightly.
Because of the factthat Bearded seals have lived for nearly two million years there is apossibility that they may eventually become unlisted due to their survival ratethrough past ice ages. Future Implications: Ibelieve that the population of bearded seals will be sustained. The reasoningfor the sudden drop of population is probably due to the unexpected change oftemperature. The bearded seals have adapted before and they will adapt again toclimate change. As stated by the BRT the bearded seals have jumped between iceages and interglacial periods for the past two million years. I think after theglobal temperatures stabilize the population of bearded seals will start toincrease and eventually return to the normal population size.
Ithink that any hunting or poaching of the animal population should beprohibited for the next few years just to ensure that the population does grow.After the population noticeably rises the protection implements that are inplace now should be restored. After the population reaches its averagepopulation size normal activity should be resumed but still be monitored by thegovernment. Theactions taken toward reestablishing the population so far are, in my opinion, agood attempt at trying to solve the problem.
I do believe that further actionsmay be necessary to fully sustain and unlist the bearded seal population.