Forces of Change

Brendan P. Kelly

Why is one seal pup so skinny?

These two ringed seal pups are the same age. One is smaller because its protective snow den melted too early. Pups are born in a den where their mother nurses them for six to eight weeks. Pups that leave a den before weaning may not be large enough to make it on their own.

Biologist Brendan P. Kelly from the University of Alaska Southeast explained, “Early snowmelt exposes ringed seal pups prematurely and increases their mortality rates from exposure to the cold, and exposure to predators like polar bears, arctic fox and birds.” If fewer pups survive, ringed seal populations will decrease.

Kelly depends on canine co-workers to sniff out ringed seals. He learned how to use Labrador retrievers from an Inuit hunter in the Northwest Territories of Canada.

Ringed seals (Pusa hispida)
Photos © Brendan P. Kelly
Retrievers can sniff out 100 to 200 seal holes in a month.
Photos © Brendan P. Kelly