Newborn Seal Pups Vulnerable to Climate Change

New research published in Physiological and Biochemical Zoology suggests that Antarctic fur seals are especially vulnerable in their first few months of life. The seal’s high energy requirements will likely become increasingly difficult to meet in the wetter, windier conditions predicted by climate change models.

The study authors monitored 48 young fur seals on Livingston Island off the Antarctic Peninsula during their first four months of life. They analyzed how much energy the pups consumed and expended in an effort to better understand how they interacted with their environment. According to their research, the pups use up to 60 percent of the energy they consume from their mother’s milk for growth.

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Lacking the insulation of full-grown seals, it is especially difficult for pups to keep warm in wet, windy conditions. The researchers noted that pups used significantly more energy in windy conditions to maintain a consistent body temperature.

The study’s lead author was quoted: “In juvenile animals we need to know how they allocate energy towards growth, energy storage, maintenance, including thermoregulation, and development of foraging skills to facilitate a successful transition to independence.” Allocating more energy to staying warm leaves less energy available for growth, and ultimately results in a lower chance of survival.

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