Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddellii) are the only mammal that dares to swim long distances under sea ice, traveling up to 20 kilometers in hour-long bursts as they scan for air holes and an eventual exit somewhere in the midst of vast Antarctic sheets.
There, mothers give birth so that their pups will be safe from leopard seals and killer whales. But how do those pups learn to navigate the risky underwater terrain so quickly? They’re born with big brains, according to a study published online and in an upcoming issue of Marine Mammal Science…
Sea Lion Strandings Climb, Scientists Still Stumped
by Megan Gannon
Scientists still don’t know why nearly 1,300 sickly sea lions have beached themselves on the shores of southern California since the beginning of the year. However, they think some weird oceanic phenomenon may be blocking off the sea lion pups’ source of food, scientists reported today (April 17).
The stranded sea lions — mostly pups born last summer— are typically turning up alive, but severely emaciated, some weighing less than 20 pounds (9 kg) when they should be well over 50 pounds (22 kg), marine officials say.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared an “unusual mortality event” last month in light of the spike in strandings. Since the beginning of the year, 1,293 sea lions have washed ashore from San Diego County to Santa Barbara County…
Following the recent sighting of a walrus on the Orkney Islands a few weeks ago, a bearded seal, usually only found in the Arctic, has appeared on Shetland.The bearded seal has been seen intermittently over the last week or so, mostly near the salmon farm in Basta Voe, on the island of Yell…
A bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus) resting on melting sea ice beneath storm clouds in Spitsbergen Island, Svalbard, Norway. The bearded seal is one of the two species of far-north seals that are victims of disappearing sea ice and dwindling snowpack in their Arctic habitat, and will be granted protections under the US Endangered Species Act, federal officials announced.
This adorable newborn harp seal was left alone on sea-ice in Canada on the Gulf of St. Lawrence. At about three weeks old, the young pup was weaned but not quite ready to head out on its own, leaving it very vulnerable to predation.
“Every March, up to 200,000 harp seal pups are born on sea ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In 2011, storms and lack of ice-cover due to a warmer winter climate resulted in hundreds of seal pups being washed up on the shore of Prince Edward Island. Like many, this young seal faced an uncertain future. Nearly three weeks old, it was weaned but not yet ready to swim on its own, leaving it vulnerable to predation or drowning. For me, this image expresses the vulnerability of not only this individual, but the entire harp seal population.”
The Pacific walrus faces warming temperatures and a loss of its habitat. These walruses depend on sea ice to birth and take care of their young, but melting glaciers means that they have to venture onto land for food, which can often lead to overcrowding and stampedes, according to the National Wildlife Federation. While the current size of the walrus population is unknown, it was last estimated to be about 129,000 in a 2006 survey.
Photo: Rodney Ungwiluk, Jr. Photography via Getty Images
Hundreds of Starving Baby Sea Lions Wash Ashore in Mysterious Mass Stranding
By Nadia Drake
It began in January. At first, there were only a few. But as the weeks went on, more sea lion pups washed ashore. The dehydrated, emaciated pups showed up on Southern California’s beaches, tucked under trucks and lifeguard towers. One was found huddled in a flower pot.
In late January, scientists surveying Channel Island sea lion rookiers reported something worrying: Pups out there were in bad shape. By early February, regional marine mammal rescue centers were concerned. The strandings hadn’t stopped. Instead, the pace was picking up.
Now, hundreds of these little animals have been admitted to rescue centers between Santa Barbara and San Diego. For a non-El Niño year, the numbers are much too high, too early. Something is going badly wrong offshore, and no one knows what it is yet…
Seals and sea lions have many similarities, and are in the same family, the Pinnipeds, but they lead very different lives. Seals are generally smaller than sea lions; male Stellar sea lions can grow to be up to 2,200 pounds. Seals also are suited to spend more time in the water than sea lions, which can “walk” on shore with their large flippers and spend time in large social groups. Another give-away is that sea lions have external ear flaps, whereas seals don’t have external ears—if you look closely you can see tiny ear holes.