What are Ice Seals?

Bearded seals (Erignathus barbatus), ringed (Pusa hispida, previously Phoca hispida), spotted (Phoca largha), and ribbon seals (Histriophoca fasciata, previously Phoca fasciata) are the species of Alaska's seals collectively called ice seals because of their association with sea ice and their dependence on it for feeding, resting and pupping. Ice seals are an important component in maintaining Alaska Native subsistence culture because seals are a source of food; skins are used for clothes, boats and crafts. Hunting, processing, and using seals is an important part of Alaska Native culture and heritage.

See the links below for more information on each species.

Bearded Seal Ugruk or Maklak

Ringed Seal Natchiq, Niqsaq, Neghsaq, Nayeq  or Nayiq

Ribbon Seal Qaiġulik, Qaaġulik or Qasruliq

Ribbon seal

Spotted Seal Qasiġiaq, Qazigiaq, Qaziłuk, Qasigyaq or Issurik

Who hunts Ice Seals in Alaska?

Alaska Natives are allowed, under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, to take ice seals for subsistence use. The five regions that are represented by the ISC are listed below, along with the villages in each region that hunt ice seals.

ESA Listing of Ice Seals

On December 21, 2012, NOAA announced the listing of ringed and bearded seals under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

On December 28, 2012, NOAA listed ringed and bearded seals in Alaska under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  This listing does not affect the subsistence harvest by Alaska Natives.

Critical habitat areas have not yet been designated, and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has one year to make those designations. Comments regarding designation of critical habitat must be received by March 31, 2015.  For information on how to submit comments see NOAA’s website at http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/protectedresources/seals/ice.htm or see these documents from NOAA Fisheries.

Here is the position of the Ice Seal Comitte and Public Hearing Talking Points on this critical habitat for ringed seals designation.

Here is the NOAA-NMFS website that provides more information and below are the Federal Register documents posted on December 28, 2012.

ISC Declaration

In response to the listing of bearded and ringed seals in Alaska, the Ice Seal Committee passed and signed this Declaration at their annual meeting on January 25, 2013.  If you have questions, please contact the Executive Manager.

Updates on Ice Seal Disease and UME in 2011

This link provides information on the Unusual Mortality Event (UME) which affected ice seals in Alaska in 2011.

Banner photo credit: Craig George