NOAA declares unusual mortality event for ice seals in Bering and Chukchi

A dead seal found on a beach near Kotzebue, Alaska. Credit: NPS/Raime Fronstin
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association is declaring an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) for three species of ice seals in the Bering and Chukchi seas after confirming reports of at least 282 dead seals since June 1, 2018.

The mortality event includes bearded seals, ringed seals and spotted seals, which together are classified as ice seals for their reliance on sea ice.

The numbers appear to be growing since 2018, when 119 stranded seals were reported. This summer, there have been 163.

Ice seal strandings by month (Image from NOAA)

NOAA says that since June, there have been 85 bearded, 66 ringed, 40 spotted, and 91 unidentified stranded ice seals.

Though strandings are fairly regular during summer months, with an average of 29 per year, the last 15 months showed a "marked increase in magnitude" compared with previous years. The rate of strandings has increased five-fold over the previous yearly average.

A declaration of UME will open up more resources and expertise to study the cause of the problem, which is still undetermined.

NOAA is asking anyone who comes across a stranded seal to not approach the animal and immediately report it to the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network Hotline at 1-877-925-7773.

More information can be found in NOAA's release

Map of 2019 ice seal strandings in the Bering and Chukchi seas, February 12 through September 4, 2019.

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