Though some might debate this notion, most of us know the existence of climate change to be true. But despite all the documentaries, science articles and textbook readings about it, most of us aren’t really conscious of the impact it has on the environment; one of these reasons being that nothing in our immediate surrounding has really drastically changed. But to creatures living in extreme conditions, some changes in the climate have already been noticed, and no matter how small, it can affect them in huge ways.
Take the Antarctic fur seals for instance. These cute creatures are very delicate in the early stages of their lives, requiring huge amounts of energy to grow, and to begin living independently. Now, due to climate change, conditions in the Antarctica are becoming more wet and windy. As a result, these seal pups are finding it even harder to meet these energy requirements, as they now need to use more of their energy to keep themselves warm. These can result in lower survival rates, as these pups will have less energy available to them for growth. But that’s not all, as the climate changes so does prey availability, which means the pups now more than ever, need to conserve and allocate more of their energy to keep warm instead of growth.
According to scientist Birgitte McDonald, a postdoctoral researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, these changes can have adverse effects on these seals as it they’ll find it a bigger challenge to be able to shift towards nutritional independence successfully. From a study she carried out, in which she studied the amounts of energy these pup seals invest in different areas (growing, thermoregulation, energy storage, etc), she found that the newborns use 60% of their energy they get from their mothers for growth. But as they progress to 1 month old, these number drops to 25%. This shows how important energy allocations to the right areas are in the early stage of the pup seal’s life. This is due to the fact that this stage is used to focus on growing, learning, and to prepare for a future independent from their mothers.
Even though predictions from climate models suggests that the places they live in will have higher temperatures, they expect rainfall , snowfall, and stronger winds to be more abundant, making these pup use more of their energy to keep warm, as they lack the insulation that an adult coat would offer. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the impacts that are affecting our planet, even if we don’t see it in our surroundings. The decisions we make in the next decade will shape the fate of such species and our earth as a whole.
-Hermann Kam (1)