At least 60 dead seals reported on coast of Bering and Chukchi Seas
Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries say at least 60 dead seals have been found along the coast of the Bering and Chukchi seas. Hair loss has been reported on some of the ice seals, but its not clear if this is due to decomposition or abnormal molting.
In a press release sent Wednesday, NOAA said a hunter from Kotlik counted 19 seal carcasses along 11 miles of shoreline north of Kotlik. The same hunter reported dozens of ice seals — bearded, ringed and spotted seals — along the shores of Stuart Island, north of Stebbins.
NOAA is working with its Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Partners to photograph and conduct necropsies on as many of the seals as possible.
An employee with the National Park Service reported six dead seals between Kotzebue Airport and Sadie Creak. Eight young bearded seals were found dead May 10 near Gambell, on St. Lawrence Island, according to the release. The public has also reported up to 30 dead seals between Kivalina and Point Hope.
NOAA says ice seals and walruses had similar symptoms during an abnormal mortality event during 2011-2016 in the Bering and Chukchi seas. The agency estimated that during that time frame more than 650 seals were impacted, including 233 dead stranded seals.
The unusually large number of dead ice seals lately comes at a time when Alaska is seeing an unusual mortality event with gray whales.
KTVA has previously reported that 60 gray whales have been found dead so far in 2019. NOAA says this many whales deaths is unusual and there are normally just two to three stranding deaths during spring migration from Mexico to Alaska. Scientists are still investigating the spike in gray whale deaths, but they have observed that the whales found in Alaska were malnourished and could have died from starvation.
Over the weekend, two more gray whales were found dead near Kodiak, according to NOAA.
Alaska Natives can subsistence hunt ice seals and many communities rely on them for food. According to NOAA, some hunters have expressed concern over contamination and reported the seals are unusually thin this year. The agency is working with hunters and fisherman to address concerns.
NOAA is asking anyone who sees a sick or dead seal, to report it immediately to one of the following agencies:
NOAA’s Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network 24-hour Hotline: 877-925-7773
North Slope Borough - North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management: 907-852-0350
Bering Strait Region - Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program: 855-443-2397 or 907-434-1149
Bering Strait Region - Kawerak, Inc. Subsistence Program: 907-443-4265
Bering Strait Region - Eskimo Walrus Commission: 877-277-4392
Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta - Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program: 855-443-2397 or 907-434-1149
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