NOAA Will Look at an ESA Listing for the Iliamna Lake Seals

May 16, 2013

The Federal Government is starting the process to determine if the harbor seals that call Iliamna Lake home should be listed under the Endangered Species Act. On Thursday NOAA Fisheries announced that a status review will be undertaken to determine if the Iliamna Lake seals are a distinct population segment of the Pacific harbor seal. The review will also look at whether or not the seals should be listed as threatened or endangered.

The status review is in response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity to list the seals under the Endangered Species Act. Estimates vary but the Center for Biological Diversity believes there are between 250 to 350 adult harbor seals in Iliamna Lake. In a statement issued on Thursday the Center characterized the status review by NOAA Fisheries as "great news". The Center claims the Iliamna Seals are just one of 5 seal populations in the Northern Hemisphere that live exclusively in freshwater and they are the only American freshwater seals. The seals apparently live in the eastern half of Iliamna Lake, which is the largest lake in Alaska.

The Center for Biological Diversity claims that activities related the proposed Pebble Mine could result in water pollution and disruption to the seals during their pupping and molting periods. The Center notes that other threats to the seals include ocean acidification and climate warming. Not much is known about Iliamna seals and it's hoped that the status review by NOAA Fisheries will shed some light on the size of the seal population and what habitat is important to their survival.

The Pebble Limited Partnership, which is exploring options for developing the Pebble Mine, issued a statement Thursday noting that they are committed to working with NOAA Fisheries and to sharing information. The Partnership asserted that they are confident the Pebble Mine project can proceed without affecting the habitat of the seals or its population. NOAA Fisheries expects to complete the status review of the Iliamna seals by the end of November. As part of the status review NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comments with a deadline of July 17th.

Harbor seals that live in the freshwater environment of Iliamna Lake.
Credit NOAA Fisheries