Posts Tagged ‘new england coast’

October 14, 2011
Lately, if you’ve walked on any of the beaches in New England, you may have seen a few dead seals. The count of these harbor seals has been rising drastically since the first one was found in September, 2011. From Massachusetts to Maine, there have been 94 found on shore. Around the fall, there is usually a few dead seals found, but this year there has been a dramatic increase on deaths. One surfer at Jenness Beach said he saw a few seals floating, just waiting to wash up on shore. The cause of these deaths has not been found yet. Biologists are studying this closer. First they thought it may have been lack of food, which is the most common cause of death in young seals, but this is not the case. Researchers drew theories about the spike in deaths, maybe a virus or disease, but there is no known cause that has been discovered. Scientists from the New England Aquarium are running some test based on tissue and organ samples from some seals to try and determine the cause; the results will not be out for about another week. There was also a whale found on one of the beaches as well. Scientists struggle to find if the whale’s death is connected to all the harbor seals deaths. The only similarity with both the whale and the seals is that they have all been young. The whale also had no sign of trauma or entanglement. At Hampton Beach, there was a dead Bluefin tuna found on the beach. Maybe all these dead sea creatures have a common cause of death.
A marine mammal expert said that there has been no trouble anywhere else in the world with harbor seals, just in the Northeast, which seals are usually at its healthiest here. The population of harbor seals has grown in the past few years, so these deaths leave most experts puzzled. Impact on the seal population will not exist unless this trend continues.
In the past, seals deaths have been caused by the bird flu. When seals went to lie out on rocks, they would lie in bird drippings and catch this disease. Also the morbillivirus killed hundreds of seals (harbor and gray) back in 2006. The recent deaths have one common trend, the age. Young seals struggle to hunt for food, but this is not the case this time. Seals found have shown a significant amount of blubber meaning they were getting enough food. One scientist questioned if it could be a “natural, algae-based toxin” located in a particular part of the ocean.
Scientists have discussed that no one should touch the animals that wash up on the shoreline, or even if they are found dead in the water. Touching them, dead or alive, is considered a federal violation.


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