Wildlife Catastrophe Hundreds of Baby Seals Could Starve to Death

Rising temperatures could spell disaster for seals living in the Baltic Sea in northern Europe. An environment group is warning that hundreds of baby seals are now facing a painful death.

For many, global warming hangs like an uncertain threat sometime far off in the future. But for hundreds of baby seals in the Baltic Sea, climate change is making itself felt this winter. And for many of them, the result could be death.

According to a Monday warning by the environmental lobbying group WWF, hundreds of baby ringed seals born this winter could die in coming weeks due to lack of food or from cold because there is not enough snow and ice in the Baltic Sea.

"The situation is dramatic," Cathrin Münster, of the WWF's Baltic office, warned Monday in a statement. "It could turn out that not one of the seal babies born in the last few weeks will survive."

Seal mothers usually create deep burrows in the snow to protect their young. With those burrows now melting too early, the young pups are forced into the icy waters before they have built up protective layers of fat. They are also too young to defend themselves against predators like foxes and eagles.

According to the WWF, worst affected are seals on the south-west coast of Finland, in the Gulf of Finland and the Gulf of Riga. The region has experienced a winter with the least ice formation for 300 years, according to the German Maritime and Hydrographic Agency. In a normal winter, the agency says, the Gulf of Bothnia, which lies between Finland and Sweden, is completely covered by ice between the end of February to mid-March. But this winter ice only formed in the northern parts of the gulf and in patches in the south.

According to the WWF, there are only 7,000 to 10,000 seals in the Baltic Sea today, which is why they have been placed on an international list of endangered species. At the start of the 20th century, the group says, there were about 180,000 seals in the area, but hunting and environmental degradation have drastically cut their numbers.

maw/dpa

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