Dead seals washing up in northern and western Alaska

A dead seal found on a beach near Kotzebue, Alaska. (Credit: NPS/Raime Fronstin)
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Subsistence hunters and biologists on the northern and northwestern coasts of Alaska have found at least 60 dead seals washed up on the local beaches, leaving scientists and residents concerned about diseases, contamination, or ecosystem changes that may be driving the deaths.

Three types of ice seals have been reported: bearded, ringed and spotted seals, all of which use sea ice for feeding, resting and pupping.

A seal hunter from Kotlik, on the northern side of the Alaska Peninsula, reported 18 seal carcasses on 11 miles of shore, and dozens on the shore of Stuart Island, north of Stebbins.

An NPS biologist also found six dead seals near Kotzebue, and the NPS got reports of another 30 dead seals between Kivalina and Point Hope.

Locals are concerned that the seals have similar signs as they did during a stretch of unusual seal deaths that lasted from 2011 to 2016 that caused over 600 documented seal deaths. The cause of that streak of deaths is yet undetermined, though it was related to an “abnormality of the molt,” according to NOAA.

Since seals and other marine wildlife make up a significant portion of the diet of Inupiaq and Yup'ik people who live on Alaska's north and northwestern coasts, marine mammal hunters are concerned.

NOAA says that hunters “reported seals are unusually thin this year,” and that they are working on necropsies to determine the cause of death.

They are asking the public to reach out to authorities if they see a dead or dying animal:

  • 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 / 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 / 907-434-1149

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