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Warm Winter Killing Young Baltic Sea Seals

Hundreds of baby seals are dying of cold and starvation in the Baltic Sea. The WWF blamed the deaths on lack of ice covering, which has lured seal pups into the water too early.

A baby seal sitting on ice

Global warming is a threat to seals

A warm winter is wreaking havoc on the young seal population in the Baltic Sea north of Germany with the international conservation organization WWF fearing that between 300 and 400 pups have died.

"The situation is dire. In some regions perhaps not a single one of the pups born in recent weeks will survive," WWF Baltic spokeswoman Cathrin Muenster said on Monday, March 10.

Lack of ice cover has been blamed for the deaths. Seal pups are going into the water too early where they "starve and die a painful death from the cold," Muenster added.

Because of the lack of ice, some seal mothers had given birth on small islands or on the mainland, where predators will likely kill the pups, said Antti Hallka, a seal expert with WWF Finland said.

Seal population had been recovering

Outlines of people swimming with sun

Warmer weather might be good for swimmers, but not for seals

The ringed seal is an earless seal found in northern waters all round the world. The Baltic subspecies, which numbers between 7,000 and 10,000, is red-listed by the World Conservation Union as endangered.

There are estimated to have been 180,000 ringed seals in the Baltic in 1900. The population was severely reduced by hunting and pollution, but began to recover in the 1980s.

Now global warming is posing a new threat.

The Baltic Sea has experienced of one of the warmest winters in almost 300 years, which scientists say is part of a general warming trend that could increase surface water temperatures 2 degrees Celsius to 4 degrees Celsius (3.6 degree Fahrenheit to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100. This degree of warming would cut the ice cover nearly in half.

The seals required 90 days of ice covering to breed successfully, but indications were that by the end of the century the southern range of the seals' breeding grounds would see its ice covering cut to as little as 18 days, the WWF said.

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