East Greenland Expedition: A Friendly Encounter with a Ringed Seal
During our five-day journey through Scoresby Sund, a small group of us had a most unusual encounter with a ringed seal while out in the Zodiacs. A seal was spotted on an ice floe, which in and of itself is not unusual, but this animal’s behavior was unlike that of any ringed seal we had ever encountered.
Typically these seals vanish into the water the moment they detect human presence, but this one remained in its little pool of water on the ice floe long enough for four different boats to approach and have a quick look. It may have been a young and naïve animal; in any event it was an extraordinary meeting.
Ringed seals are the smallest, most numerous and most widespread of Arctic ice seals. Their pelage is mottled with gray rings, hence the name. They are solitary creatures usually found in heavy pack ice. Females construct dens in thick ice where they give birth to a single pup in March or April. Pups are weaned in about a month and then take up the adult diet of fish and marine invertebrates.
Both Polar bears and Inuit peoples find the ringed seal a favorite food item – it is a staple of both their diets and thus a lynchpin of the Arctic ecosystem. While the population is currently robust, there is concern for the future as Arctic sea ice diminishes in a changing climate.
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