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Ringed & Bearded Seals

Multiple Classifications


Ringed seal (Phoca hispida) - "Natchiq"

Bearded seal (Erignathus Barbatus) - "Ugruk"

Population Status

Distribution:

Both the ringed and bearded seals are resident species and do not leave the region in winter. The ringed seal has a circumpolar distribution and is the most abundant and widespread marine mammal in the Canadian Arctic. In the southeast Beaufort Sea and Amundsen Gulf, greatest densities of ringed seals during breeding (March - May) and haul-out (June) occur in the large bays of Amundsen Gulf, Prince Albert Sound and Minto Inlet, and between Nelson Head and Cape Parry. The seals are also widely distributed throughout most other areas of the Beaufort (although range in the Beaufort is unknown), including waters offshore of the Yukon. In late summer, ringed seals tend to form large, loose feeding aggregations, and coastal waters offshore of the Yukon appear to be an important area for ringed seals to feed on dense concentrations of zooplankton such as mysids.

Bearded seals are much less common than ringed seals and prefer waters shallower than 100 metres. Waters offshore of the Yukon coast are generally deeper than that and do not provide optimal habitat for bearded seals.

Population size

The number of ringed seals in the Western Arctic, including Amundsen Gulf, is approximately 650,000 seals. The fluctuation of the ringed seal population numbers are linked to polar bear population numbers. The size of the bearded seal population is not known, although during aerial surveys in the Beaufort Sea in the 1970’s, ringed seals were sighted 16:1 bearded seal.

Population trend

Believed to be stable or increasing.

Unique or special characteristics:

 

  • Ringed seals are the main prey of polar bears. Both ringed and bearded seal stocks in the Beaufort appear to be transboundary.
  • The range of the ringed seal population in this area is not known, but appears to be extensive as individuals tagged near Herschel Island in 1973 were subsequently recaptured at Banks Island and in Siberia.
  • Bearded seals are the only northern seal with four mammae rather than two.

Habitat Features

The availability of stable sea ice in areas of good quality and quantity of prey is critical to the well being of seals in the Beaufort Sea.

Like bowhead whales, ringed seals tend to form large, loose feeding aggregations during the mid-August to mid-September period. Ringed seals tend to feed on similar prey items to bowhead whales, and thus the locations of their major feeding aggregations tend to overlap. Ringed seals are particularly common in Yukon coastal waters during late summer and early fall, presumably to take advantage of the abundant food resources such as mysids and other types of zooplankton. Upwelling of nutrient-rich waters at these coastal locations (related to frontal dynamics, bathymetry, and prevailing winds) produces favourable feeding conditions for ringed seals in this area.

Bearded seals are rare in Yukon coastal waters as they prefer shallower depths and feed in benthic habitats.

Harvest

Inuvialuit:

Under the IFA, the Aklavik Hunters and Trappers Committee has the authority to develop bylaws that apply to the Inuvialuit harvest of specific species, if required. NWT laws must then reflect these bylaws; bylaws may also be reflected in Ivvavik National Park regulations and Yukon wildlife regulations. There are currently no AHTC bylaws in place.

Harvesting Rights
InuvialuitOthers
Preferential Non-native residents of the NWT who have lived adjacent to sealing areas may harvest seals for subsistence and do not require a licence. Non-resident harvesting for food or persons harvesting for sport require a licence.

Historically, ringed seals were important to the cash economy and domestic harvests of the Inuvialuit of this region. From 1988 to 1999 Inuvialuit harvest data was collected through the Inuvialuit Harvest Study. In the period from 1988 to 1997, the average annual harvest reported by Aklavik residents was minimal, with most years reporting no harvest. Off the Yukon coast, the reported number of ringed seals harvested annually is fewer than 10. There are no reports of bearded seals in the Inuvialuit harvest from the area. Funding and support for the collection of harvest data is supplied through the IFA and other agencies.

The Inuvialuit harvest approximately 500-600 ringed seals annually, with most of these coming from the community of Holman. Seals are used to feed dog teams, pelts used for handicrafts and are sold commercially, and seal meat (particularly from young seals) is eaten locally. Present day harvests are considerably lower than in the 1960’s, prior to the anti-sealing campaigns.

Others:

The harvest of seals is regulated by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Fisheries Joint Management Committee makes recommendations to the Minister of Fisheries on the setting of harvest levels, if required.

Eco-tourism

Tourists may be able to observe ringed seals hauled out on the ice in June (aerial flights), or in feeding aggregations in late summer and fall along with bowhead whales.

Threats

Ringed or bearded seals could be disturbed by a variety of industrial activities. Ringed seal pups are born in late March or April in snow lairs (caves) under the land-fast ice surface, and remain there for the six-week lactation period. They are susceptible during this time to oil spills, predation, disturbance (e.g., ice breakers), and abandonment. Bearded seal pups are born on the transition zone ice and spend two to three days with their mother before they are independent.

Species at Risk Status

Yukon: none

COSEWIC: none

CITES: none

Research and Monitoring

Population monitoring:

No ongoing population monitoring based on the Yukon North Slope.A seal monitoring study was established at Holman in 1992 and has continued annually each year. There is also an ongoing program to record species observed on Herschel Island.

Research:

The Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans is currently conducting a study in the Beaufort Sea to determine the distribution, densities, behavioural patterns, body and reproductive condition of ringed and bearded seals in areas subject to exploration activities. Seals are being captured live, measured and tagged with satellite and roto tags. Seals harvested by subsistence users are being sampled and measured. This information may be used to provide advice and recommendations for future monitoring programs to mitigate negative impacts of hydrocarbon exploration and development.

A project to learn about ringed seal movements in the western Canadian Arctic using satellite telemetry was conducted by DFO from1999 to 2003.

http://www.fjmc.ca/field_programs/Seals_02/Lois_Seals/Project%20Background.htm

Deficiencies

A list of monitoring gaps and recommendations for future monitoring identified in 2005 under the NWT Cumulative Impact Monitoring Program include: data and information on range, movements, site fidelity, stock structure for ringed seals as indicator species; data on the impacts of development on ringed seals; data on the impacts of climate change /reduced ice cover on ringed seals and bearded seals and more information on the basic life history of bearded seals.

http://www.nwtcimp.ca/reports_fish/marine_mammals_feb2005.pdf

Management

The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans is responsible for the management of marine mammals in Canada. Laws governing the use of seals within Canada's 320-km limit are found in the federal Seal Protection Regulations.

Management Jurisdictions
AreaLegislationEnforcementAgreements
Offshore IFA, Fisheries Act, Marine Mammals Regulations Department of Fisheries and Oceans none

Community-based Information

Community-based information on this species may also be found in the reports of the annual community-based monitoring program conducted in Aklavik and neighbouring communities by the Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Co-op. http://www.taiga.net/coop/community/index.html

In 2004, the Inuvialuit Cultural Resources Centre prepared a report titled “Tariurmiutuakun qanuq atuutiviksaitlu ilitchuriyaqput ingilraan Inuvialuit qulianginnin = Learning about marine resources and their use through Inuvialuit oral history”. Transcripts from two Inuvialuit oral history collections were reviewed to see what could be learned about marine resources and their use within the southeastern Beaufort Sea. The study area included the coast from the Yukon/United States border in the west to the Franklin Bay area in the east. Information was compiled on beluga and bowhead whales, some coastal birds, fish, polar bears and seals, in an effort to provide a foundation for developing future projects on Inuvialuit knowledge of marine resources. http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/Library/279627.pdf

Related Literature and Information Sources

Government of Northwest Territories – Department of Environment and Natural Resources http://www.nwtwildlife.com/NWTwildlife/seals/seals.htm

Harwood, L. Personal Communication, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Yellowknife.

Harwood, L.A. and I. Stirling. 1992. Distribution of ringed seals in the southeastern Beaufort Sea during late summer. Can. J. Zool. 70: 891-900.

Joint Secretariat, 2003. Inuvialuit Harvest Study, Data and Methods Report 1988 – 1997. Inuvik, NT. http://www.fjmc.ca/publications/IHS.htm

Smith, T. 1987. The ringed seal (Phoca hispida) of the western Arctic. Can. Bull. Fish. Aquatic Sci. 216.

Stirling, I., M. Kingsley, and W. Calvert. 1982. The distribution and abundance of seals in the eastern Beaufort Sea, 1974-79. Canadian Wildlife Service Occ. Paper No. 47.

Stirling, I., and N. Oritsland. 1995.Relationships between estimates of ringed seal (Phoca hispida) and polar bear (Ursus maritumus) populations in the Canadian Arctic. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 52(12): 2594-2612.

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Ringed Seal

Ringed Seal

www.nrdc.org