F Rosa Rubicondior: Creationism in Crisis - A Population of Greenland's Ringed Seals Has Been Isolated Since 90,000 Years Before 'Creation Week'

Tuesday 7 November 2023

Creationism in Crisis - A Population of Greenland's Ringed Seals Has Been Isolated Since 90,000 Years Before 'Creation Week'

The Kangia Ringed Seal of Greenland's Ilulissat Icefjord
The ringed seals in Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland, are special

How an isolated population of a species diverges from the 'parent', both genetically and phenotypically, is illustrated by a population of Arctic ringed seals, Pusa hispida hispida which is normally a wide-ranging circumpolar species but a population of which is more or less sedentary in the Ilulissat Icefjord in Western Greenland, and so is isolated from the main population.

This population, known locally as the Kangia, differs markedly in coat pattern and size from the usual ringed seal and genetic studies have shown that it has been isolated from the main population for about 100,000 years, which, to the embarrassment of creationists, means since about 90,000 years before they believe Earth existed.
The ringed seal of the Ilulissat Icefjord have been identified as a distinct subspecies by a research team led by Greenlandic and Danish researchers. Their results are published open access in the journal Molecular Ecology.

Tell me all about the Arctic ringed seal, especially the Kangia from western Greenland. The Arctic ringed seal (Pusa hispida), often referred to as simply the ringed seal, is a species of seal found primarily in the Arctic and subarctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere. These seals are well adapted to cold environments and are considered the smallest and most abundant of the Arctic seals. Here are some key facts about the Arctic ringed seal:
  1. Physical Characteristics:
    • Arctic ringed seals are small, with adult individuals typically reaching lengths of 1.2 to 1.5 meters (3.9 to 4.9 feet).
    • They have a distinctive ring-like pattern on their fur, which consists of dark spots on a lighter background.
    • Their front flippers are shorter and wider than those of other seals, making them well-suited for maneuvering in icy waters.
  2. Range:
    • Arctic ringed seals inhabit the Arctic Ocean and its surrounding seas, including the Beaufort, Chukchi, Bering, and White Seas.
    • They are known to be particularly abundant in the coastal areas of Alaska, Canada, and northern Russia.
  3. Habitat:
    • These seals primarily inhabit pack ice and sea ice-covered waters, where they use breathing holes and lairs in the ice for shelter.
    • They are well adapted to life in extreme cold and have physiological and behavioral adaptations to survive in icy conditions.
  4. Diet:
    • Ringed seals primarily feed on a variety of small prey, including fish, crustaceans, and zooplankton.
    • They are important prey for polar bears, arctic foxes, and various bird species.
  5. Reproduction:
    • Ringed seals give birth to their pups on the ice, typically in snow caves near breathing holes.
    • The breeding season occurs in late winter or early spring, with a single pup born after a gestation period of about 9-11 months.
    • Mothers nurse and care for their pups until they are weaned and able to swim on their own.
  6. Conservation Status:
    • Arctic ringed seals are generally not considered to be endangered as a species, but they are sensitive to environmental changes and disturbances in their habitat.
    • Climate change and habitat loss due to the reduction of sea ice are significant threats to their long-term survival.
Kangia is the local name for the variety of Arctic ringed seal that is isolated in the Ilulissat Icefjord in Western Greenland. This population of ringed seals is of particular interest because of its unique ecological and geographical characteristics. It is larger and has a distinct coat pattern which makes it distinguishable from other ringed seals.

Here is some information about the Kangia ringed seal (Pusa hispida hispida):
  1. Geographical Isolation:
    The Kangia ringed seal population is isolated within the Ilulissat Icefjord, which is located near the town of Ilulissat in western Greenland. This fjord is famous for its dramatic scenery and the presence of large icebergs.
  2. Adaptations:
    Kangia ringed seals have likely developed specific adaptations to their local environment within the fjord. The unique conditions of the fjord, with its icebergs and glacier-calved ice, may have influenced the behavior and habits of these seals.
  3. Conservation Significance:
    Isolated populations like the Kangia ringed seals can be particularly vulnerable to environmental changes and human activities. As the Arctic environment undergoes shifts due to climate change, it is important to monitor and study these localized seal populations to better understand their status and conservation needs.
  4. Human Interactions:
    Inuit communities in Greenland have traditionally relied on ringed seals for subsistence and cultural practices. Understanding and conserving the Kangia population is important for both ecological and cultural reasons.
  5. Research and Monitoring:
    Scientists and researchers may conduct studies and monitoring programs to assess the health and status of the Kangia ringed seal population. This research can help inform conservation efforts and better protect this unique group of seals.
It's important to note that the Kangia ringed seal population, like many other Arctic ringed seal populations, may face challenges associated with climate change, such as habitat loss due to reduced sea ice and shifts in the distribution of prey species. Conservation efforts and a better understanding of these seals' ecological needs are essential for their long-term survival.

If you are interested in specific research or conservation efforts related to the Kangia ringed seal population, I recommend reaching out to local environmental organizations, government agencies, or research institutions that focus on Arctic marine life and wildlife conservation in Greenland. They may have more detailed and up-to-date information on this unique population of ringed seals.
The research is described in a news release from the Arctic Research Centre, Aarhus University, Denmark:
The ringed seals in Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland, are special

Local hunters in the Icefjord near Ilulissat have long known about a special ringed seal – the Kangia seal – which is significantly larger and has a markedly different fur colour and pattern than typical Arctic ringed seals. Now scientific studies have shown that the Kangia ringed seal has been isolated from other ringed seals for a long period of time – more than 100,000 years.
The scientific study used satellite transmitters, population counts and DNA analyses of tissue samples to describe the special Kangia ringed seal in Ilulissat Icefjord. Here, a seal has just had a satellite transmitter mounted on its back.

Photo: Pinngortitaleriffik – Greenland Nature Institute.
Exploring Arctic nature can be difficult. Harsh conditions and great distances are significant challenges when researchers want to coax secrets out of nature.

However, a research project, led by Greenlandic and Danish researchers, has now succeeded in describing a new type of ringed seal that lives in the Icefjord near Ilulissat in West Greenland; a unique natural area on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The results have just been published in the renowned scientific journal Molecular Ecology.

A small population

Over a number of years, the researchers together with local hunters captured seals in nets and mounted a small satellite transmitter on the seals’ backs. When the seals were up for air, the satellite transmitter sent a message about their location.

We could see that the Kangia seals primarily stay inside the Icefjord. We were able to count the seals from a plane and therefore able to estimate that there are only approx. 3,000 of these special Kangia ringed seals.

Aqqalu Rosing-Asvid, co-first author
Senior Researcher
Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, Nuuk, Greenland.

The small resident population is highly unusual compared to the typical Arctic ringed seal, which has an enormous population size and often travels thousands of kilometres around the Arctic in search of food.

Isolated for thousands of years

The researchers also took small tissue samples from the captured seals. The samples were sent for genetic analyses to uncover the seals’ DNA profile, and the results revealed that the Kangia ringed seals are genetically different from the typical Arctic ringed seal.

But where and how the Kangia ringed seal was isolated from the other Arctic ringed seals and why it acquired its new special biological characteristics is still a mystery.

Perhaps also special seals in other Arctic fjords

The study emphasises that there is still much we do not know about the diversity of organisms in the Arctic and thus their possibilities to adapt to climate change and human activities.
The Kangia ringed seal is larger than the typical Arctic ringed seal and its fur colour is different with more distinctive patterns.

Photo: Pinngortitaleriffik – Greenland Nature Institute.

Fur colour and patterns of the Kangia ringed seal (left) and a typical Arctic ringed seal (right).

Photo: Pinngortitaleriffik – Greenland Nature Institute.

The Kangia ringed seal lives in the Ilulissat Icefjord, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List because of its magnificent and unique nature.

Photo: Pinngortitaleriffik – Greenland Nature Institute.

There are many other fjords in the Arctic that have not yet been studied in detail, and where the ringed seals may also have locally developed new genetic variants.

Professor Rune Dietz, co-author
Department of Ecoscience
Aarhus University, Denmark.
The researchers give technical details in their open access paper in Molecular Ecology:

The Earth's polar regions are low rates of inter- and intraspecific diversification. An extreme mammalian example is the Arctic ringed seal (Pusa hispida hispida), which is assumed to be panmictic across its circumpolar Arctic range. Yet, local Inuit communities in Greenland and Canada recognize several regional variants; a finding supported by scientific studies of body size variation. It is however unclear whether this phenotypic variation reflects plasticity, morphs or distinct ecotypes. Here, we combine genomic, biologging and survey data, to document the existence of a unique ringed seal ecotype in the Ilulissat Icefjord (locally ‘Kangia’), Greenland; a UNESCO World Heritage site, which is home to the most productive marine-terminating glacier in the Arctic. Genomic analyses reveal a divergence of Kangia ringed seals from other Arctic ringed seals about 240 kya, followed by secondary contact since the Last Glacial Maximum. Despite ongoing gene flow, multiple genomic regions appear under strong selection in Kangia ringed seals, including candidate genes associated with pelage coloration, growth and osmoregulation, potentially explaining the Kangia seal's phenotypic and behavioural uniqueness. The description of ‘hidden’ diversity and adaptations in yet another Arctic species merits a reassessment of the evolutionary processes that have shaped Arctic diversity and the traditional view of this region as an evolutionary freezer. Our study highlights the value of indigenous knowledge in guiding science and calls for efforts to identify distinct populations or ecotypes to understand how these might respond differently to environmental change.

Figure 1.
Unusual population of ringed seals in the Ilulissat Icefjord system, West Greenland. (a) Kangia ringed seals hauling out on sea ice. (b) The dynamic Ilulissat Icefjord system. (c) Pelage of Kangia (left) and typical Arctic ringed seals (right). (d) Kangia ringed seal instrumented with a satellite tag (image edited to remove person in background. Original image provided in (d). (e) Typical Arctic ringed seal instrumented with a satellite tag (movement data not shown).
All photographs by Greenland Institute of Natural Resources.

Figure 2.
Kangia seal movement and survey data. (a) Satellite tracks based on 21,136 positions for 18 Kangia ringed seals equipped with GPS tags, including three seals that left the fjord temporarily and returned. Positions for the six animals equipped with ARGOS tags are provided in Figure S2. (b) Distribution and abundance of Kangia seals determined by aerial survey. Additional information on survey strata and transects is provided in Figure S3.
Rosing-Asvid, A., Löytynoja, A., Momigliano, P., Hansen, R. G., Scharff-Olsen, C. H., Valtonen, M., Kammonen, J., Dietz, R., Rigét, F. F., Ferguson, S. H., Lydersen, C., Kovacs, K. M., Holland, D. M., Jernvall, J., Auvinen, P., & Tange Olsen, M. (2023).
An evolutionarily distinct ringed seal in the Ilulissat Icefjord.
Molecular Ecology, 32, 5932–5943. https://doi.org/10.1111/mec.17163

Copyright: © 2023 The authors.
Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Open access.
Reprinted under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license (CC BY 4.0)
What we have here is a good example of allopatric speciation in progress. No doubt it will be dismissed by creationists who will redefine the term 'evolution' so as to exclude evolution they don't want to accept. However, the scientific definition of evolution is change in allele frequency in a population over time, and this is precisely what the Kangia illustrate.

Perhaps creationists can rationalise all these events happening in the 99.97% of Earth's history that occurred before their supposed 'Creation Week', but I would suggest normal people might think of them as a reason to drop the infantile notion that Earth was created out of nothing by magic just 10,000 years ago. However, most of them are uneducated American fundamentalists who also believe Earth is small, flat and has a dome over it to keep the water above the sky out, despite the fact that no space rocket has yet crashed into this dome, and Earth is clearly a spheroid with no covering dome, when seen from space.

These are generally people who can't allow themselves to doubt the creation myths they were taught by their parents, because it might mean they don't feel important enough, unless the creator of the universe made everything with them in mind.

Thank you for sharing!

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