CLIMATE CHANGE AND RINGED SEAL (PHOCA HISPIDA) RECRUITMENT IN WESTERN HUDSON BAY

Authors


  • 1

    Personal communication from Nick Lunn, 5320–122 Street NW, Edmonton, AB T6H 3S5, Canada, 2003.

Abstract

Climate warming is predicted to reduce the extent of ice cover in the Arctic and, within the Hudson Bay region, the annual ice may be significantly decreased or entirely lost in the foreseeable future. The ringed seal (Phoca hispida), a key species that depends on sea ice, will likely be among the first marine mammals to show the negative effects of climatic warming. We used 639 ringed seals killed by Inuit hunters from western Hudson Bay (1991–1992, 1999–2001) to assess trends in recruitment relative to snow depth, snowfall, rainfall, temperature in April and May, North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) from the previous winter, and timing of spring break-up. Snowfall and ringed seal recruitment varied from lower than average in the 1970s, to higher in 1980s and lower in 1990s. Prior to 1990, seal recruitment appeared to be related to timing of spring ice break-up which was correlated with the NAO. However, recent 1990–2001 environmental data indicate less snowfall, lower snow depth, and warmer temperatures in April and May when pups are born and nursed. Decreased snow depth, particularly below 32 cm, corresponded with a significant decrease in ringed seal recruitment as indicated by pups born and surviving to adults that were later harvested. Earlier spring break-up of sea ice together with snow trends suggest continued low pup survival in western Hudson Bay.

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