(CN) – The federal government blew off a deadline to decide whether three seal species should be listed as threatened or endangered, the Center for Biological Diversity says in Federal Court. The group says ringed, bearded, and spotted seals are being increasingly threatened by receding sea ice due to global warming.
In its complaint in Washington, D.C., the Center say the Secretary’s 1-year deadline has passed, after an initial positive finding.
Average Arctic temperatures in some areas have already risen by 7 degrees, and could rise by 18 degrees by the end of the century, the environmental group says.
The Center filed its initial petition to protect the seals under the Endangered Species Act in May last year. The government issued a preliminary finding in favor of listing in September, then missed this year’s deadline to provide a firmer conclusion.
This prevents the seals from receiving the protections “they desperately need and deserve,” the group says.
All three species need ice sheets to survive.
The ringed seal particularly depends on ice sheets, through which it punches breathing holes that it uses to rest, give birth and nurse.
The bearded seal is the largest of Alaska seals, and uses mostly shallow waters.
The spotted seal, known for its characteristic vivid markings, has an estimated total population of about a quarter million, according to the group.
Some climate scientists think the Arctic has already passed a “tipping point” toward an ice-free summer, according to the complaint.
Beside climate change dangers, the seals also are threatened by hunting, oil and gas development, contamination, and bycatch.
The center wants the government to do its job and list the seals and protect them. It is represented by William Snape III.