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Opinion: Projecting the effects of environmental change on Antarctic seals

  • Donald B. Siniff (a1), Robert A. Garrott (a2), Jay J. Rotella (a2), William R. Fraser (a3) and David G. Ainley (a4)...

We consider how Antarctic seals may respond to changes in climate, realizing that anthropogenic alteration of food webs will influence these responses. The species considered include the ice-obligate - crabeater (Lobodon carcinophaga), Weddell (Leptonychotes weddellii), Ross (Ommataphoca rossii) and leopard (Hydrurga leptonyx) seal - and the ice-tolerant Antarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus gazella) and southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina). The data analysed are from long-term censuses of Weddell seals in McMurdo Sound (1997–2006), and of Weddell, fur and elephant seals at Arthur Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula (1974–2005). After considering their responses to recent changes in environmental features, as well as projected and current changes to their habitat our conclusions are that the distribution and abundance of 1) crabeater and Weddell seals will be negatively affected by changes in the extent, persistence and type of annual sea ice, 2) Ross and leopard seal will be the least negatively influenced by changes in pack ice characteristics, although, as may be the case for crabeater and Weddell, population size and distribution may be altered through changes in food web dynamics, and 3) southern elephant and fur seals will respond in ways opposite to the pack ice species, but could also be influenced most immediately by changes in their food resources due to factors other than climate.

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