An image recognized in the UK’s Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition shows a herd of seals atop a piece of pack ice and also puts the bleak future of the environment in sharp focus.
The photo, by Spanish photographer Cristobal Serrano, was taken with a drone flying above the Errera Channel off the coast of Antarctica.
A caption accompanying the photo notes that the seals are “dependent on sea ice, for resting, breeding, avoiding predators such as killer whales and leopard seals, and accessing feeding areas.” The krill they feast on also use pack ice for shelter and food. As climate change contributes to a steady decline of sea ice along the Earth’s poles, an essential habitat for these seals will be increasingly at risk in future decades.
Small details make this picture a microcosm of the realities facing life across the world: Not only the density of these seals clustered on the ice, but also the bottom right corner of the floe breaking off, creating an even smaller surface for them to move around on.
With their population estimated to be in the millions, crabeater seals aren’t anywhere close to being classified as endangered, but this photo does remind us that they rely on a very specific environment – one that is slowly disappearing.