Unusually high number of seal deaths reported along the coast of the Bering and Chukchi seas

A hunter from Kotlik counted 18 dead seals along 11 miles of shore, north of Kotlik. Photo from May 7, 2019 (Photo courtesy Harold Okitkun)

An unusually high number of ice seals have been found dead in the Bering Sea region.

That’s according to NOAA Fisheries, which announced today that the agency has received reports of at least 60 dead seals, including bearded, ringed, and spotted seals, along the coast of the Bering and Chukchi seas. The agency says that between 2014 and 2018, the average number of ice seal deaths reported in a given year between January and June was 18.

The recent reports have come from multiple sources, including a hunter from the southwestern village of Kotlik and a biologist with the National Park Service in Kotzebue. NOAA Fisheries is aware of other sightings near Kivalina, Point Hope and St. Lawrence Island.

Julie Speegle with NOAA Fisheries says the agency received the bulk of the reports on Monday.

“We did have some reports that some were skinny,” she said. “So that’s interesting, especially given what is going on with the gray whales.”

This year, there’s been a spike in gray whale deaths along the Pacific Coast, many of which appeared to be starving.

The agency is currently mobilizing a team to collect samples to help determine the cause of the deaths.

“We don’t know if it’s lack of sea ice, or if there was a harmful algal bloom,” said Speegle. “There’s quite a range of factors.”

She said that the samples collected in the field will have to be sent to a lab, and it may be several months before they have results.

Ringed seal

A ringed seal. (Public domain photo by NOAA Fisheries)

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