Heartbreaking images show adorable harp seal pups struggle to survive amid melting ice

KGO logo
Saturday, March 20, 2021
Heartbreaking images show baby harp seals struggle to survive
As ice dissolves into slush, harp seal pups are in danger of drowning, being crushed by large ice chunks or being eaten by predators.

BLANC-SABLON, Québec -- Harp seal pups -- with their beady eyes and soft, pillowy fur -- are tremendously adorable. Yet new heartbreaking images show the pups in danger, stranded on beaches as sea ice failed to form after an unprecedentedly warm winter.

National Geographic traveled to Gulf of St. Lawrence, where a population of harp seals migrates south from the Canadian Arctic and Greenland to give birth on the sea ice every March.

Its team captured images of the pups struggling to climb onto ice chunks and stranded on dangerous, predator-filled beaches.

Global warming is thwarting ice formation, and sea ice cover in the gulf is at its lowest since 1969, according to NatGeo. Satellite images of the Gulf of St. Lawrence taken in 2008 are starkly different from this year's. Normally, over 90,000 square miles of ice covers the cold body of water, but 2021 images appear to show the gulf ice-free.

These images taken 13 years apart show the lack of ice in the gulf. The extent of sea ice in 2008 was a bit above average. Sea ice in 2021 will likely be well below average.

As ice dissolves into slush, these pups are in danger of drowning, being crushed by large ice chunks or being eaten by predators.

"They're evolutionarily designed for ice. They're not designed to survive onshore ... and it puts them literally in the proximity of every predator out there. So yes, they're in trouble," said Jen Hayes, a National Geographic contributor.

Experts expect a devastating year for harp seal pup mortalities.

"We need to do more. Even though we may not live in the vicinity of the ice pack, what we do influences climate change, and these trends in temperature," Hayes said.

For more on this story, read more here and follow along on Instagram at @NatGeoInTheField.