CHARLOTTETOWN, Prince Edward Island, Canada, March 26, 2010 (ENS) - Thousands of harp seal pups are presumed dead in Canada's Gulf of St. Lawrence and starving pups are being found abandoned on the beaches of Prince Edward Island, victims of the worst ice conditions ever recorded in the region.
Environment Canada said March 16 that ice conditions in the Gulf were the lowest in the 41 years it has kept records.
Off Newfoundland, Canada's other seal hunting ground, ice has formed only off the Northern Peninsula when, by now, it has usually extended along the island's northeast coast.
Observers from the International Fund for Animal Welfare report that the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the annual birthing ground of hundreds of thousands of harp seals, is "essentially devoid of both ice and seals."
"The conditions this year are disastrous for seal pups. I've surveyed this region for nine years and have never seen anything like this," said Sheryl Fink, a senior researcher with IFAW.
"There is wide open water instead of the usual ice floes, and rather than the hundreds of thousands of seal pups that we normally encounter, only a handful of baby harp and hooded seals, animals that are normally found on ice, remain on the beaches," she said.
Other observers report that the lack of ice has left seal mothers with few places to bear their young or to feed their pups. Many people have seen the newly born pups stranded on beaches instead of being born out on the ice-covered Gulf where they have entered the world for hundreds of years.
Yet the federal government increased the quota for this year's seal hunt just a few days after federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation March 10 that poor ice conditions could cause the cancellation of this year's Gulf of St. Lawrence seal hunt. It usually begins at the end of March. …
But extremely high pup mortality is happening again this year. In 2007, 99 percent of harp seal pups born in the Southern Gulf of St Lawrence are thought to have died due to lack of ice. …