NOAA Fisheries Responding to Multiple Dead Ice Seals in Bering Sea Region
June 15, 2019
NOAA Fisheries received multiple reports Monday (June 10) of dead ice seals (bearde, ringed, and spotted seals) in southwest Norton Sound. A hunter from Kotlik counted 18 seal carcasses along 11 miles of shore, north of Kotlik. This same hunter reported dozens of ice seals along the shores of Stuart Island, north of Stebbins. A biologist with the National Park Service reported six dead seals between Kotzebue Airport and Sadie Creek, as well as accounts from the public of up to 30 dead seals between Kivalina and Point Hope. We are working with our Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Partners to document (photograph) and conduct necropsies on as many of these animals as possible.
The carcasses of eight young bearded seals were also found May 10 near Gambell, on St. Lawrence Island in the northern Bering Sea.
Hair loss has been reported for some dead ice seals. Further examination of fresh animals will help determine if this is due to decomposition or if it could be abnormal molting, similar to symptoms present in ice seals during the 2011-2016 Unusual Mortality Event involving seals and walruses in the Bering and Chukchi seas.
As ice seals are an essential resource for Alaska Native communities, food safety is a major concern. Some people have expressed concerns about contamination. Others have reported the seals are unusually thin this year, and are worried about prey availability. NOAA is working to respond to concerns from the Bering Sea Elders Group, Kawerak Inc., Association of Village Council Presidents, and individual hunters/fishermen.
Coastal community members and subsistence hunters are often the first to discover unusual wildlife events and are a valuable source of information for monitoring the health of wildlife populations. Collaboration and communication with subsistence user groups and community organizations results in a more efficient and comprehensive response to unusual wildlife events.
If you see a sick or dead seal, please report it immediately to the appropriate regional contact below:
Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews
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