Bearded Seals Maturing Faster And Having More Pups – But Are Still At Risk Of Climate Change

Source: Hakai Magazine/Sarah Keartes 

Photo: Alastair Rae/Wikimedia Commons 

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With their manicured mustaches, bearded seals may be among the hippest pinnipeds by human standards. And in the face of climate change, the species’ females are setting an unexpected trend: they’re having more babies.

A collaborative project between Indigenous Alaskan hunters in villages across the Bering, Beaufort, and Chukchi Seas, and scientists with the state’s Department of Fish and Game found that the pregnancy rate in bearded seals is on the rise. What’s more, the animals also seem to be maturing at a younger age. In the 1960s, bearded seals were reaching sexual maturity at around four years old. Now, they’re hitting puberty at age two and a half.

Whether bearded seals elsewhere in the world are experiencing a similar baby boom remains a mystery. The Arctic seals evolved alongside polar bears and other large predators, so keeping out of sight is one of their most important survival tools. Elusive behaviors, however, also mean the animals remain little studied across much of their range.

“Our collaborations with native subsistence hunters are invaluable,” says Anna Bryan, who led the research and presented the preliminary findings at the Alaska Marine Science Symposium in January.

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Photo: Alastair Rae/Wikimedia Commons

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