Well, it may be Easter Sunday… but it’s also #SealSunday! Today we are looking into more ice dwelling seals, this time from the Northern hemisphere. Today’s seal is the Ringed Seal (Pusa hispida).
Distinguishable by the striking rings on its body, the Ringed Seal is a small, stocky earless seal which inhabits the ice across the Arctic and sub-Arctic. Their faces are rather cat-like, and they also have sharp and sturdy claws attached to their flippers which are used to dig holes in the thick sea ice in order to create breathing holes. In some places this ice can be up to 2 metres thick! Retreating ice in the Arctic is threatening this species, and out of the five subspecies, one is Vulnerable while another is Endangered. Vagrant Ringed Seals do occasionally travel to more southerly destinations in Europe, with a number being spotted in the North Sea and turning up in countries such as France, Germany, The Netherlands and the UK!
When breeding, the female Ringed Seal builds a lair on snow on top of the ice in which to have their pup. This lair will protect the pup from the freezing conditions, as well as from predators such as the Polar Bear and the Arctic Fox. This may be on inshore or offshore ice, and access is often from underwater, through a small hole. When the young are born, in their long white lanugo, they will only weigh around 4 kg, and it is crucial they have this protection for the duration of the weaning period, which is 5-6 weeks long. Climate change and warmer Arctic weather has resulted in lairs melting or collapsing, and this may have fatal consequences for the pups who die from exposure, or fall prey to a hungry Polar Bear. The survival of this species is heavily dependant on the presence of the ice. When strong enough, the pups will venture into the water where they will be safer than on the ice. Here they will start to learn to forage, while still receiving their mother’s milk. Prey of the Ringed Seal focuses mainly on small schooling fish and the occasional invertebrate.
Click on over to our finished Pinnipedia pages to read the rest of the Ringed Seal profile! www.pinniped.org/front-page/pinnipedia/ringed-seal. Photo by NOAA. Happy Easter!