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Group petitions to list Lake Iliamna seals as an endangered species

Alaska Dispatch
Erin McKittrick/Ground Truth Trekking photo

The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group based in Tucson, Ariz., has filed a petition for endangered species protection of Pacific harbor seals living in Alaska’s Iliamna Lake, 200 miles southwest of Anchorage.

The lake seals living in Alaska’s largest body of freshwater are the only freshwater seals in the nation and one of only five freshwater seal populations in the world, according to the group's press release. Lake Iliamna, the eighth largest lake in the U.S., is 77 miles long and 22 miles wide with a maximum depth of 988 feet.

The Center for Biological Diversity is no stranger to Alaska; the group has waged legal fights to protect polar bears and other species and it opposes offshore oil drilling in the Arctic. This time, the group appears to be targeting another controversial resource project in Alaska, the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay.

The group says Iliamna Lake seals face the threat of extinction due to climate change and Pebble Mine, a large gold and copper mine that would be located 17 miles upstream from the seals. The seals, and also the salmon they rely on for food, would be threatened by a large-scale open-pit copper-and-gold mine, the group claims.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has 90 days to respond to the petition to determine whether a listing is warranted.

In other Alaska wildlife news, the Pacific walrus is getting more attention from federal scientists, who say that the shifts in summer sea ice in the Arctic is also changing the animal's behavior, The Washington Post reports. As the sea ice diminishes, scientists expect walruses to increase their use of coastal resting areas and feeding in near-shore foraging areas. The consequence of the shifting climate for walruses and other Arctic animals is unknown, scientists say. The Pacific walrus is not listed as depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act; nor is it listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.