Antarctica: Rising sea ice 'hurts' elephant seal breeding

Elephant seals Elephant seals on a beach in the US

Elephant seals living close to Antarctica might find it harder to breed in the face of rising sea ice, it seems.

"When there's more sea ice the population is likely to go down and in years when there's less sea ice the population is likely to go up," marine biologist John van den Hoff tells the Reuters news agency. Scientists say the number of breeding female elephant seals on Macquarie Island near Antarctica has dropped nearly 25% between 1988 and 2009.

Sea ice is also affected by the combination of colder winds and warming seas, van den Hoff says, because it drives up the readings of a key weather variability index called the Southern Annular Mode (SAM). Higher SAM readings appear to correlate with lower elephant seal birth rates.

Scientists suggest the changing weather patterns may be linked to a hole in the ozone layer and rising greenhouse gas emissions. But the trend may not be all bad news for elephant seals, as lower sea ice levels elsewhere around Antarctica might provide better breeding conditions for other elephant seal colonies.

"It is still too early to say whether elephant seals will be climate change winners or losers," van den Hoff says.

Use #NewsfromElsewhere to stay up-to-date with our reports via Twitter.

More on This Story

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • Audi R8Best in show

    BBC Autos takes a look at 10 of the most eye-catching new cars at the 2015 Geneva motor show


  • A cyborg cockroachClick Watch

    The cyborg cockroach – why has a computer been attached to this insect’s nervous system?

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.