The Canadian government has banned commercial hunting of these vulnerable white pups since 1987 and established strict rules for tourist interaction. That helped to protect the population, but climate change brings new uncertainty to their future. Already the Magdalen archipelago is experiencing stronger storms like Hurricane Dorian, which tore away parts of the islands in 2019. And a diminishing ice barrier no longer protects against winter storms. One study shows that temperatures around the islands have “warmed 4.2 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century, twice the global average.”
The difficulty in reaching harp seals is not for lack of seal numbers. According to Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), they are 7.4 million strong in three population groups (Northwest Atlantic, Greenland Sea, and White Sea/Barents Sea). The problem is retreating ice resulting from warming waters. This ice loss affects both the seals, who pup on the ice to avoid predators, and the humans on Quebec’s Magdalen Islands, who rely on the ice for protection from winter storms.