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Volume 28
Number 2
Summer 2011
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Harbors seals on iceberg, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska Resilience
Conserving pinnipeds in Pacific Ocean parks in response to climate change

By Sarah Allen, Eric Brown, Kate Faulkner, Scott Gende, and Jamie Womble
Published: 4 Sep 2015 (online)  •  14 Sep 2015 (in print)
Climate change effects on pinnipeds
Conservation strategies
About the authors
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Climate change will likely have a profound impact on resources in Pacific Ocean national parks. Changes are predicted to occur in sea-level rise, food webs, community structure of marine organisms, and oceanographic processes. Nevertheless, predicting the nature or extent of these changes and their impacts is highly uncertain (Stephenson et al. 2010). For example, sea temperature, salinity, and ocean circulation are expected to change, but because they are interrelated and vary spatially and seasonally, scientists expect “unexpected” responses by organisms (NRC 2002). Most scientists, though, agree that ocean and coastal conditions, including those in Pacific Ocean parks, will be altered over the coming decades as a result of climate change (Largier et al. 2011; Learmonth et al. 2006; see Ocean parks of the National Park System have common oceanographic and biological settings and related vulnerabilities to changes in climate, and staffs are seeking ways to coordinate response strategies. Here we consider the potential impacts of climate change on pinnipeds (seals and sea lions) that occur in some 18 national parks around the Pacific Ocean from Hawaii to Alaska, and the role that the National Park Service can play in conserving this group of marine mammals.

Pinnipeds occur throughout the Pacific Ocean and range from critically endangered monk seals (Monachus schauinslandi) that use select sites in several Hawaiian Island parks to the more cosmopolitan harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) that use a diversity of habitats in parks from Alaska to California (table 1; fig. 1 and fig. 2, below). This group of marine mammals faces unusual challenges because they rest and pup (“haul out”) on land and ice but forage at sea, sometimes in close proximity to haul-outs, but often traveling great distances to feed. Although the National Park Service manages only a fraction of the total area needed for effective conservation of these species, it manages some key habitats for pinnipeds, which affords them extra protection for reproduction and survival. To this end, a specific management strategy for pinnipeds within parks in collaboration with other management agencies is needed. We first describe linkages between climate change and pinniped abundance and distribution in national parks, and then highlight four specific roles that parks can play that will aid in conserving these animals and their habitats.

Pinnipeds on remote beach, Channel Islands National Park, California


Figure 2. A pinniped colony enjoys a remote beach at Channel Islands National Park.

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This page updated:  8 November 2011

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From the Editor
Information Crossfile
Masthead Information
Special Issue: Climate Change Science in the National Parks
Climate change impacts and carbon in U.S. national parks
Glossary: Climate change–related terms
Pikas in Peril: Multiregional vulnerability assessment of a climate-sensitive sentinel species
Pika monitoring under way in four western parks: The development of a collaborative multipark protocol
Climate change science in Everglades National Park
Sea-level rise: Observations, impacts, and proactive measures in Everglades National Park
Landscape response to climate change and its role in infrastructure protection and management at Mount Rainier National Park
Glacier trends and response to climate in Denali National Park and Preserve
Climate change, management decisions, and the visitor experience: The role of social science research
  Conserving pinnipeds in Pacific Ocean parks in response to climate change
The George Melendez Wright Climate Change Fellowship Program: Promoting innovative park science for resource management
Estimating and mitigating the impacts of climate change and air pollution on alpine plant communities in national parks
Parks use phenology to improve management and communicate climate change
Standards and tools for using phenology in science, management, and education
Hummingbird monitoring in Colorado Plateau parks
Paper birch: Sentinels of climate change in the Niobrara River Valley, Nebraska
Climate change in Great Basin National Park: Lake sediment and sensor-based studies
Long-term change in perennial vegetation along the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park (1889–2010)
The distribution and abundance of a nuisance native alga, Didymosphenia geminata, in streams of Glacier National Park
Monitoring direct and indirect climate effects on whitebark pine ecosystems at Crater Lake National Park
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