But that breeding ice is melting: Studies have projected that the Arctic’s ice may recede by as much as 20 percent by 2050, with summers being ice-free by 2037. A paper published last year in PLOS ONE found that ice cover in all harp seal breeding regions is declining by as much as 6 percent per decade. As a result, since 1991 over 3,000 harp seals have been stranded along the East Coast from Maine to North Carolina, the authors report. In 2011 alone, five seals turned up in North Carolina and Virginia.
Now, scientists at Duke University have expanded previous research on seal strandings and melting ice cover to take into account biologic factors: Is one of the sexes more vulnerable to strandings than the other? Are strandings compromising genetic diversity, producing less fit seals that are in turn more susceptible to strandings?