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Ringed Seal

Ringed Seal

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The ringed seal also known as the jar seal and as netsik or nattiq by the Inuit
Inuit
The Inuit are a group of culturally similar indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic regions of Canada , Denmark , Russia and the United States . Inuit means “the people” in the Inuktitut language...

, is an earless seal
Earless seal
The true seals or earless seals are one of the three main groups of mammals within the seal superfamily, Pinnipedia. All true seals are members of the family Phocidae . They are sometimes called crawling seals to distinguish them from the fur seals and sea lions of the family Otariidae...

 (family: Phocidae) inhabiting the Arctic
Arctic
The Arctic is a region located at the northern-most part of the Earth. The Arctic consists of the Arctic Ocean and parts of Canada, Russia, Greenland, the United States, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. The Arctic region consists of a vast, ice-covered ocean, surrounded by treeless permafrost...

 and sub-Arctic regions. The ringed seal is a relatively small seal, rarely greater than 1.5 m in length, with a distinctive patterning of dark spots surrounded by light grey rings, whence its common name. It is the most abundant and wide-ranging ice seal
Ice seal
Ice seal, or pack-ice seal is a general term applied to any one of a number of pinniped species of the family Phocidae whose life cycle is completed largely on or about the sea ice of the Earth's polar regions....

 in the northern hemisphere: ranging throughout the Arctic Ocean
Arctic Ocean
The Arctic Ocean, located in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Arctic north polar region, is the smallest and shallowest of the world's five major oceanic divisions...

, into the Bering Sea
Bering Sea
The Bering Sea is a marginal sea of the Pacific Ocean. It comprises a deep water basin, which then rises through a narrow slope into the shallower water above the continental shelves....

 and Okhotsk Sea as far south as the northern coast of Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

 in the Pacific, and throughout the North Atlantic coasts of Greenland
Greenland
Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physiographically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe for...

 and Scandinavia
Scandinavia
Scandinavia is a cultural, historical and ethno-linguistic region in northern Europe that includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, characterized by their common ethno-cultural heritage and language. Modern Norway and Sweden proper are situated on the Scandinavian Peninsula,...

 as far south as Newfoundland, and include two freshwater subspecies in northern Europe
Northern Europe
Northern Europe is the northern part or region of Europe. Northern Europe typically refers to the seven countries in the northern part of the European subcontinent which includes Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Finland and Sweden...

. Ringed seals are one of the primary prey of polar bear
Polar Bear
The polar bear is a bear native largely within the Arctic Circle encompassing the Arctic Ocean, its surrounding seas and surrounding land masses. It is the world's largest land carnivore and also the largest bear, together with the omnivorous Kodiak Bear, which is approximately the same size...

s and have long been a component of the diet of indigenous people of the Arctic.

Description



The ringed seal is the smallest and most common seal in the Arctic, with a small head, short cat-like snout, and a plump body. Their coat is dark with silver rings on their back and sides with a silver belly, from which this seal gets its vernacular
Vernacular
A vernacular is the native language or native dialect of a specific population, as opposed to a language of wider communication that is not native to the population, such as a national language or lingua franca.- Etymology :The term is not a recent one...

 name. Depending on subspecies and condition, adult size can range from 100 to 175 cm (40-69 in) and weigh from 32 to 140 kg (70-308 lbs). The seal averages about 5 ft (1.5 m) long with a weight of about 50–70 kg (110-150 lbs). This species is usually considered the smallest species in the true seal family, although several related species, especially the Baikal, may approach similarly diminutive dimensions. Their small front flippers have claws more than 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick that are used to maintain breathing holes through 6.5 ft (2 m) thick ice.

Taxonomy and phylogeny


The taxonomy of ringed seal has been much debated and revised in the literature. Due to its wide range, as many as ten subspecies have been described. Currently, five distinct subspecies are recognized: P. h. hispida in the Arctic Ocean
Arctic Ocean
The Arctic Ocean, located in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Arctic north polar region, is the smallest and shallowest of the world's five major oceanic divisions...

 and Bering Sea
Bering Sea
The Bering Sea is a marginal sea of the Pacific Ocean. It comprises a deep water basin, which then rises through a narrow slope into the shallower water above the continental shelves....

, P. h. ochotensis in the Sea of Okhotsk
Sea of Okhotsk
The Sea of Okhotsk is a marginal sea of the western Pacific Ocean, lying between the Kamchatka Peninsula on the east, the Kuril Islands on the southeast, the island of Hokkaidō to the far south, the island of Sakhalin along the west, and a long stretch of eastern Siberian coast along the west and...

, P. h. saimensis in Lake Saimaa in Finland
Finland
Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...

, P. h. ladogensis
Ladoga Seal
The Ladoga ringed seal , is a freshwater subspecies of the ringed seal which are found entirely in Lake Ladoga in northwestern Russia. The subspecies evolved during the last ice age, about 11,000 years ago...

in nearby Lake Ladoga
Lake Ladoga
Lake Ladoga is a freshwater lake located in the Republic of Karelia and Leningrad Oblast in northwestern Russia, not far from Saint Petersburg. It is the largest lake in Europe, and the 14th largest lake by area in the world.-Geography:...

 in Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 and P.h. botnica in the Bering Sea
Bering Sea
The Bering Sea is a marginal sea of the Pacific Ocean. It comprises a deep water basin, which then rises through a narrow slope into the shallower water above the continental shelves....

. The ringed seal is most closely related to the Caspian seal
Caspian Seal
Caspian seals , one of the smallest members of the earless seal family, are unique in that they are found exclusively in the brackish Caspian Sea. They can be found not only along the shorelines, but also on the many rocky islands and floating blocks of ice that dot the Caspian Sea...

 (P. caspica) and Baikal seal (P. sibirica), all of which share similar small sizes, features of skull morphology and affinity for ice.

The closest phylogenetic relatives to the ringed seal are the grey seal
Grey Seal
The grey seal is found on both shores of the North Atlantic Ocean. It is a large seal of the family Phocidae or "true seals". It is the only species classified in the genus Halichoerus...

 (Halichoerus grypus) and the species in the Phoca genus (harbor seal
Harbor Seal
The harbor seal , also known as the common seal, is a true seal found along temperate and Arctic marine coastlines of the Northern Hemisphere...

 and largha seal), to which the ringed seals were formerly attributed. Together with the remaining northern latitude ice seals (ribbon seal
Ribbon Seal
The ribbon seal is a medium-sized pinniped from the true seal family . A seasonally ice-bound species, it is found in the Arctic and Subarctic regions of the North Pacific Ocean, notably in the Bering Sea and Sea of Okhotsk. It is distinguished by its striking coloration, with two wide white...

, bearded seal
Bearded Seal
The bearded seal , also called the square flipper seal, is a medium-sized pinniped that is found in and near to the Arctic Ocean. It gets its generic name from two Greek words that refer to its heavy jaw...

, harp seal
Harp Seal
The harp seal or saddleback seal is a species of earless seal native to the northernmost Atlantic Ocean and adjacent parts of the Arctic Ocean. It now belongs to the monotypic genus Pagophilus. Its scientific name, Pagophilus groenlandicus, means "ice-lover from Greenland", and its synonym, Phoca...

 and hooded seal
Hooded Seal
The hooded seal is an arctic pinniped found only in the central and western North Atlantic ranging from Svalbard in the east to the Gulf of St...

), these seals constitute the subfamily Phocinae.

Range and habitat



Ringed seals occur throughout the Arctic Ocean
Arctic Ocean
The Arctic Ocean, located in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Arctic north polar region, is the smallest and shallowest of the world's five major oceanic divisions...

. They can be found in the Baltic Sea
Baltic Sea
The Baltic Sea is a brackish mediterranean sea located in Northern Europe, from 53°N to 66°N latitude and from 20°E to 26°E longitude. It is bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Europe, and the Danish islands. It drains into the Kattegat by way of the Øresund, the Great Belt and...

, the Bering Sea
Bering Sea
The Bering Sea is a marginal sea of the Pacific Ocean. It comprises a deep water basin, which then rises through a narrow slope into the shallower water above the continental shelves....

 and the Hudson Bay
Hudson Bay
Hudson Bay , sometimes called Hudson's Bay, is a large body of saltwater in northeastern Canada. It drains a very large area, about , that includes parts of Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Alberta, most of Manitoba, southeastern Nunavut, as well as parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota,...

. They prefer to rest on ice floe and will move farther north for denser ice. One subspecies
Subspecies
Subspecies in biological classification, is either a taxonomic rank subordinate to species, ora taxonomic unit in that rank . A subspecies cannot be recognized in isolation: a species will either be recognized as having no subspecies at all or two or more, never just one...

 can be found in freshwater.

Ringed seals have a circumpolar distribution from approximately 35°N to the North Pole, occurring in all seas of the Arctic Ocean. In the North Pacific, they are found in the southern Bering Sea and range as far south as the Seas of Okhotsk and Japan. Throughout their range, ringed seals have an affinity for ice-covered waters and are well adapted to occupying seasonal and permanent ice. They tend to prefer large floes (i.e., > 48 m in diameter) and are often found in the interior ice pack where the sea ice coverage is greater than 90%. They remain in contact with ice most of the year and pup on the ice in late winter-early spring.

Distribution in Alaska:
Ringed seals are found throughout the Beaufort, Chukchi, and Bering Seas, as far south as Bristol Bay in years of extensive ice coverage. During late April through June, ringed seals are distributed throughout their range from the southern ice edge
northward. Preliminary results from recent surveys conducted in the Chukchi Sea in May–June 1999 and 2000 indicate that ringed seal density is higher in nearshore fast and pack ice, and lower in offshore pack ice. Results of surveys conducted by Frost and Lowry (1999) indicate that, in the Alaskan
Beaufort Sea, the density of ringed seals in May–June is higher to the east than to the west of Flaxman Island. The overall winter distribution is probably similar, and it is believed there is a net movement of seals northward with the ice edge in late spring and summer. Thus, ringed seals occupying the Bering and southern Chukchi Seas in winter apparently are migratory, but details of their movements are unknown.

Ringed seals reside in arctic waters and are commonly associated with ice floes and pack ice. The ringed seal maintains a breathing hole in the ice thus allowing it to use ice habitat that other seals cannot.

Life history



Females reach sexual maturity at 4 years while males do not reach maturity until 7 years old. Males are thought to be monogamous breeders. During the spring breeding season, females construct lairs within the thick ice and give birth in these structures. Females give birth to a single pup on ice floes or shorefast ice in March or April after a 9 month gestation period. Pups are weaned after one month and build up a thick layer of blubber
Blubber
Blubber is a thick layer of vascularized adipose tissue found under the skin of all cetaceans, pinnipeds and sirenians.-Description:Lipid-rich, collagen fiber–laced blubber comprises the hypodermis and covers the whole body, except for parts of the appendages, strongly attached to the musculature...

.

Females usually begin mating in late April. Males will roam the ice for a mate. When found, the male and female may spend several days together before mating. Then the male looks for another mate.

Ringed seals live about 25 to 30 years. They are solitary animals and when hauled out on ice separate themselves from each other by hundreds of yards.

Diet


Ringed seals eat a wide variety of small prey that consists of 72 species of fish and invertebrates. Feeding is usually a solitary behavior and their prey of choice includes mysids, shrimp
Shrimp
Shrimp are swimming, decapod crustaceans classified in the infraorder Caridea, found widely around the world in both fresh and salt water. Adult shrimp are filter feeding benthic animals living close to the bottom. They can live in schools and can swim rapidly backwards. Shrimp are an important...

, arctic cod
Arctic cod
The Arctic cod is an Arctic deepwater fish related to the true cod .-Names:The fish has several common names, including polar cod and Greenland cod...

, and herring
Herring
Herring is an oily fish of the genus Clupea, found in the shallow, temperate waters of the North Pacific and the North Atlantic oceans, including the Baltic Sea. Three species of Clupea are recognized. The main taxa, the Atlantic herring and the Pacific herring may each be divided into subspecies...

. While feeding, ringed seals dive to depths of 35 to 150 ft (10–45 m). In the summer ringed seals feed along edge of the sea-ice for polar cod
Polar cod
The polar cod , also known as the Arctic cod, is a fish of the cod family Gadidae, related to the true cod . Note that there is another fish with the common name Arctic cod, Arctogadus glacialis....

. In shallow water they feed on smaller cod. Ringed seals may also eat herring
Herring
Herring is an oily fish of the genus Clupea, found in the shallow, temperate waters of the North Pacific and the North Atlantic oceans, including the Baltic Sea. Three species of Clupea are recognized. The main taxa, the Atlantic herring and the Pacific herring may each be divided into subspecies...

, smelt, whitefish
Freshwater whitefish
The freshwater whitefish are fish of the subfamily Coregoninae in the salmon family Salmonidae. Along with the freshwater whitefish, the Salmonidae includes the freshwater and anadromous trout and salmon species as well as graylings...

, sculpin
Sculpin
A Sculpin is a fish that belongs to the order Scorpaeniformes, suborder Cottoidei and superfamily Cottoidea, that contains 11 families, 149 genera, and 756 species...

, perch
Perch (disambiguation)
Perch may refer to:*Perch , a surname *The USS Perch, multiple ships with the name*Perch , antique unit of measure of length, area or volume, depending on context, used in medieval France and the British Isles...

, and crustaceans.

Predators


Ringed seal are an important food item in particular for polar bear
Polar Bear
The polar bear is a bear native largely within the Arctic Circle encompassing the Arctic Ocean, its surrounding seas and surrounding land masses. It is the world's largest land carnivore and also the largest bear, together with the omnivorous Kodiak Bear, which is approximately the same size...

s. During the pupping season, arctic fox
Arctic fox
The arctic fox , also known as the white fox, polar fox or snow fox, is a small fox native to Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere and is common throughout the Arctic tundra biome. The Greek word alopex, means a fox and Vulpes is the Latin version...

 and glaucous gulls take ringed seal pups born outside lairs while killer whales, Greenland shark
Greenland shark
The Greenland shark, Somniosus microcephalus, also known as the sleeper shark, gurry shark, ground shark, grey shark, or by the Inuit languages name Eqalussuaq, is a large shark native to the waters of the North Atlantic Ocean around Greenland and Iceland. These sharks live farther north than any...

s and occasionally Atlantic walruses prey upon them in the water.

Human interactions


Ringed seals have long been an important component of the diet of Arctic indigenous people throughout their range, and continue to be harvested annually by many communities. Early Paleoeskimo
Early Paleoeskimo
The Early Paleoeskimo is one of three distinct periods of human occupation recognized by archaeologists in the eastern North American Arctic, the others being the Late Paleoeskimo and the Thule...

 sites in Arctic
Arctic
The Arctic is a region located at the northern-most part of the Earth. The Arctic consists of the Arctic Ocean and parts of Canada, Russia, Greenland, the United States, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. The Arctic region consists of a vast, ice-covered ocean, surrounded by treeless permafrost...

 Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 revealed signs of harvested ringed seals dating from ca. 4000–3500 B.P.
Before Present
Before Present years is a time scale used in archaeology, geology, and other scientific disciplines to specify when events in the past occurred. Because the "present" time changes, standard practice is to use AD 1950 as the origin of the age scale, reflecting the fact that radiocarbon...

, likely captured in frozen cracks and leads in the ice, with a selection for juveniles and young adults.


Bycatch
Bycatch
The term “bycatch” is usually used for fish caught unintentionally in a fishery while intending to catch other fish. It may however also indicate untargeted catch in other forms of animal harvesting or collecting...

 in fishing gear, such as commercial trawls, is also another threat to ringed seals. Climate change is potentially the most serious threat to ringed seal populations since much of their habitat is dependent upon pack ice. Birthing lairs are often destroyed before the seal pup is able to forage on its own leading to poor body condition.

Conservation in the USA


The estimated population size for the Alaska stock of ringed seals is 249,000 animals. Currently, the population trend for this stock is unknown. Ringed seals are listed as a species of "least concern" by the IUCN, and are considered not “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act
Endangered Species Act
The Endangered Species Act of 1973 is one of the dozens of United States environmental laws passed in the 1970s. Signed into law by President Richard Nixon on December 28, 1973, it was designed to protect critically imperiled species from extinction as a "consequence of economic growth and...

. Reliable estimates of the minimum population, potential biological removal, and human-caused mortality and serious injury are currently not available. Because the potential biological removal for ringed seals is unknown, the level of annual U.S. commercial fishery-related mortality that can be considered insignificant and approaching zero mortality and serious injury rate is unknown. No information is available on the status of ringed seals. Due to a very low level of interactions between U.S. commercial fisheries and ringed seals, the Alaska stock of ringed seals is not considered a strategic stock.

On March 28, 2008, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service
National Marine Fisheries Service
The National Marine Fisheries Service is a United States federal agency. A division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of Commerce, NMFS is responsible for the stewardship and management of the nation's living marine resources and their habitat within the...

 initiated a status review under the Endangered Species Act
Endangered Species Act
The Endangered Species Act of 1973 is one of the dozens of United States environmental laws passed in the 1970s. Signed into law by President Richard Nixon on December 28, 1973, it was designed to protect critically imperiled species from extinction as a "consequence of economic growth and...

 (ESA) to determine if listing this ice seal species under the ESA is warranted.

Subspecies


The populations living in different areas have evolved to separate subspecies, which are currently recognized as :
  • Pusa hispida hispida: Arctic coasts of Europe
    Europe
    Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

    , Russia
    Russia
    Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

    , Canada
    Canada
    Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

     and Alaska
    Alaska
    Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

    , including Novaya Zemlya
    Novaya Zemlya
    Novaya Zemlya , also known in Dutch as Nova Zembla and in Norwegian as , is an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean in the north of Russia and the extreme northeast of Europe, the easternmost point of Europe lying at Cape Flissingsky on the northern island...

    , Spitsbergen
    Spitsbergen
    Spitsbergen is the largest and only permanently populated island of the Svalbard archipelago in Norway. Constituting the western-most bulk of the archipelago, it borders the Arctic Ocean, the Norwegian Sea and the Greenland Sea...

    , Greenland
    Greenland
    Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physiographically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe for...

     and Baffin Island
    Baffin Island
    Baffin Island in the Canadian territory of Nunavut is the largest island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, the largest island in Canada and the fifth largest island in the world. Its area is and its population is about 11,000...

    .
  • Pusa hispida ochotensis: Kamchatka
    Kamchatka Peninsula
    The Kamchatka Peninsula is a peninsula in the Russian Far East, with an area of . It lies between the Pacific Ocean to the east and the Sea of Okhotsk to the west...

    , Okhotsk Sea and southward to 35°N, along the Japan
    Japan
    Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

    ese Pacific coast.
  • Pusa hispida botnica: The Baltic Sea, especially in the Bothnian Bay
    Bothnian Bay
    The Bothnian Bay or Bay of Bothnia is the most northern part of the Gulf of Bothnia, the northern part of the Baltic Sea. Its northernmost point is situated in Töre...

     where there is a large population, but there are also endangered populations in the Gulf of Finland
    Gulf of Finland
    The Gulf of Finland is the easternmost arm of the Baltic Sea. It extends between Finland and Estonia all the way to Saint Petersburg in Russia, where the river Neva drains into it. Other major cities around the gulf include Helsinki and Tallinn...

    , the Gulf of Riga
    Gulf of Riga
    The Gulf of Riga, or Bay of Riga, is a bay of the Baltic Sea between Latvia and Estonia. According to C.Michael Hogan, a saline stratification layer is found at a depth of approximately seventy metres....

     and the Archipelago Sea
    Archipelago Sea
    Archipelago Sea is a part of the Baltic Sea between the Gulf of Bothnia, the Gulf of Finland and the Sea of Åland, within Finnish territorial waters...

    .
  • Pusa hispida ladogensis (Ladoga seal
    Ladoga Seal
    The Ladoga ringed seal , is a freshwater subspecies of the ringed seal which are found entirely in Lake Ladoga in northwestern Russia. The subspecies evolved during the last ice age, about 11,000 years ago...

    ) Lake Ladoga
    Lake Ladoga
    Lake Ladoga is a freshwater lake located in the Republic of Karelia and Leningrad Oblast in northwestern Russia, not far from Saint Petersburg. It is the largest lake in Europe, and the 14th largest lake by area in the world.-Geography:...

  • Pusa hispida saimensis (Saimaa ringed seal
    Saimaa Ringed Seal
    The Saimaa ringed seal The Saimaa ringed seal The Saimaa ringed seal (Pusa hispida saimensis, is a subspecies of ringed seal (Pusa hispida). They are among the most endangered seals in the world, having a total population of only about 260 individuals. The only existing population of these seals is...

    ). Lives only in Lake Saimaa
    Saimaa
    Saimaa is a lake in southeastern Finland. At approximately , it is the largest lake in Finland, and the fourth largest in Europe. It was formed by glacial melting at the end of the Ice Age. Major towns on the lakeshore include Lappeenranta, Imatra, Savonlinna, Mikkeli, Varkaus, and Joensuu. The...

     in Finland and is one of the most threatened seals in the world with total population around 250 individuals.


The three last subspecies are isolated from the others, like the closely related Baikal seal and Caspian seal
Caspian Seal
Caspian seals , one of the smallest members of the earless seal family, are unique in that they are found exclusively in the brackish Caspian Sea. They can be found not only along the shorelines, but also on the many rocky islands and floating blocks of ice that dot the Caspian Sea...

.

External links