The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has declared an unusual mortality event for ice seals in the Bering and Chukchi seas that are getting stranded at an unusually high rate.

NOAA Fisheries says at least 282 dead seals have been reported since early June 2018. Of those seals, 119 were reported stranded in 2018 and 163 were reported stranded in 2019.

The increase in deaths, the administration says, is nearly five times the average number of reported strandings, which is about 29 seals every year.

Since June 1, 2018, NOAA Fisheries says 85 bearded, 66 ringed, 40 spotted and 91 unidentified ice seals were reported stranded.

The populations of these seals included in the unusual mortality event include threatened Beringia Distinct Population Segment bearded seals, threatened Arctic ringed seals and Bering Distinct Population Segment spotted seals.

"Reports of stranded seals primarily occurred from June to September," a release from NOAA Fisheries says. "All age classes of ice seals were reported."

Some of the ice seals were sampled for harmful algal blooms and health parameters. NOAA says skin from stranded seals was also collected to determine the species. Those results are still pending.

"Alaska Natives living along the coast of Alaska, specifically the Beaufort, Chukchi, and Bering seas, and Bristol Bay, are highly reliant on ice seals to maintain their nutrition and subsistence culture," the release says. "Hunting, processing, and using seals is an important part of Alaska Native culture and heritage. Seals are a source of food, and their skins are used for clothes, boats, and handicrafts."

NOAA says the increase in ice seal strandings in these areas is a major concern for Native hunters and communities.

To report dead, injured or sick marine mammals, call NOAA's Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network at (877) 925-7773 or get in touch with local wildlife authorities.

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