ANCHORAGE, Alaska - A team of US and Russian scientists has launched the biggest population survey to date of Bering Sea ice seals as federal authorities consider endangered species protections for the marine mammals, a US government spokeswoman said on Wednesday.
As part of the project, which began this week, scientists are flying by plane at low altitude - just 240-300 meters above the surface - across 37,000 km of US and Russian waters, tracking the seals with infrared and digital cameras.
The survey is not required for the US government to make a finding that any species of seals is endangered, but officials have expressed hope the study could provide more insight into how the loss of sea ice, attributed to global climate change, is harming the animals.
The study will cover four species - ringed, spotted, bearded and the ribbon seals - according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
All those seal species are characterized by their dependence on floating sea ice for resting, nursing their young, foraging for food and other important life functions.