Harp Seals

A seal pup on thin ice.
International Fund for Animal Welfare

A new study from Duke has found that as sea ice cover declines off the coast of eastern Canada, harp seal pups are suffering from a higher rate of strandings than their parents. It’s the first study of seal stranding rates that takes into account genetics, as well as environmental and demographic factors like age and gender.  Duke research scientist David Johnston says that genetic fitness does not affect the rate of stranding.

Stewart Cook/International Fund for Animal Welfare

Warmer temperatures in the North Atlantic over the last several decades have resulted in significantly higher mortality rates of baby harp seals. A new study out of Duke looked at satellite data of ice conditions in the Gulf of St Lawrence, a major breeding region and compared them to yearly reports of dead seal pups that washed up on shore. Lead researcher David Johnston is a scientist at the Duke University Marine Lab:

David Johnston:  These animals have evolved to take advantage of the advan tages of ephemeral surfaces like ice.

Harp seal on Harkers Island Feb 23
NC Dept of Cultural Resources

Several adult harp seals have been spotted along the North Carolina coast. Harp seals normally live in icy regions in the Arctic and Canada. Small populations have been moving down the East Coast in recent years, but this is the furthest south the seals have been spotted.