NOAA Fisheries responding to multiple dead ice seals in Bering Sea Region

Above: A hunter from Kotlik counted 18 dead seals along 11 miles of shore, north of Kotlik. Small cover photo: A dead seal found on a beach near Kotzebue, Alaska. Credit: NPS/Raime Fronstin.

by NOAA Staff

NOAA Fisheries is responding to several reports of unusually large numbers of dead ice seals along the coast of the Bering and Chukchi seas, in Alaska. At least 60 dead seals have been reported.

We received multiple reports Monday (June 10) of dead ice seals (bearded, ringed, and spotted seals) in southwest Norton Sound. A hunter from Kotlik counted 18 seal carcasses along 11 miles of shore, north of Kotlik. This same hunter reported dozens of ice seals along the shores of Stuart Island, north of Stebbins.

A biologist with the National Park Service reported six dead seals between Kotzebue Airport and Sadie Creek, as well as accounts from the public of up to 30 dead seals between Kivalina and Point Hope. We are working with our Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Partners to document (photograph) and conduct necropsies on as many of these animals as possible.

The carcasses of eight young bearded seals were also found May 10 near Gambell, on St. Lawrence Island in the northern Bering Sea.

Hair loss has been reported for some dead ice seals. Further examination of fresh animals will help determine if this is due to decomposition or if it could be abnormal molting, similar to symptoms present in ice seals during the 2011-2016 Unusual Mortality Event involving seals and walruses in the Bering and Chukchi seas.

As ice seals are an essential resource for Alaska Native communities, food safety is a major concern. Some people have expressed concerns about contamination. Others have reported the seals are unusually thin this year, and are worried about prey availability. NOAA is working to respond to concerns from the Bering Sea Elders Group, Kawerak Inc., Association of Village Council Presidents, and individual hunters/fishermen.

Coastal community members and subsistence hunters are often the first to discover unusual wildlife events and are a valuable source of information for monitoring the health of wildlife populations. Collaboration and communication with subsistence user groups and community organizations results in a more efficient and comprehensive response to unusual wildlife events.

If you see a sick or dead seal, please report it immediately to the appropriate regional contact below:

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

This news release was issued on June 12, 2019.

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