2019 was a very bad year for the Ringed Seal’s pups.
Because of rising sea temperatures, the ice formed much later than usual in Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago near the north pole. The delayed formation of sea ice, didn’t leave much time for snow to accumulate on top of it. This is a big deal for the Ringed Seals mothers and their newborn pups, since the mothers usually dig their lairs in the thick snowdrifts, this allows them to enter the lair from under the ice without the polar bears noticing their locations.
Without a thick layer of snow, Ringed Seal mothers had to give birth on the exposed ice. The smell of placental blood acts like an alarm system and calling in predators from all around: Polar Bears, Arctic Foxes, Seagulls and others come to grab the newborn pup.
I saw this young pup being born from far away, we didn’t want to approach it during delivery because that could interfere with the birth process, but once it was out and detached from the umbilical cord, we could finally get closer.
This little seal pup, literally a few minutes old, could barely move and was hypnotized by the world around it - the white landscape, the seagulls that arrived and of course its mother.
Unfortunately, the inevitable has happened and an Arctic Fox arrived at the scene. He was looking from far away at the seal pup, trying to get closer and grab an easy lunch, but he couldn’t because of my presence. He was patiently waiting for me to leave to get an opportunity for the catch, and I knew that the moment I leave will be the end of the young pups life. But nature is nature, and time to leave has arrived and indeed the moment we drove away with the snowmobiles, the fox made a run for it and escaped with the pup in its mouth.
Unfortunately, this story has repeated many times in Svalbard during the spring of 2019. This is bad news not only for the seals, but also for the entire eco-system as they are a big part of its balance. In the years to come, the polar bears will also pay the price of this bad seal year.