Mysterious deaths of Alaska sea lions, seals prompt probe

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 06, 2011 5:49 PM
Mysterious deaths of Alaska sea lions, seals prompt probe

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - Authorities on Monday were investigating a series of suspicious deaths to marine mammals, one found with a bullet in it's skull, near a small town in southeast Alaska.

Two dead Steller sea lions and three dead harbor seals have been found near Skagway, Alaska, about 90 miles north of Juneau, over the past five months, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service spokeswoman said.

"One was found floating and the others washed ashore and were found by locals walking the beach," NOAA Fisheries spokeswoman Julie Speegle said.

Four of the animals had head trauma, and one of them, a harbor seal, had a bullet lodged in its skull, she said. Except for the seal that was shot, officials are unsure of causes of death, Speegle said.

One of the dead sea lions was a pregnant female, she said.

NOAA Fisheries has issued a plea to the public for information about the animals, asking citizens to call the agency's law-enforcement hotline.

Steller sea lions and harbor seals are protected species under federal law.

Steller sea lions in that region of Alaska are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and all sea lions and seals are safeguarded under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Only Alaska Natives may hunt the animals, and only for traditional subsistence purposes, under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

It is possible that some of the animals were injured during a legal Native subsistence hunt, Speegle said

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb)