Health Evaluation of Ringed Seals Documented in the Southern Bering Region, Winter 2017-Spring 2018
Evaluation of the health of ringed seals observed in four communities in the southern Bering Sea
Between December 20, 2017 and May 16, 2018, the National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska Region’s Marine Mammal Stranding Program confirmed reports of 28 ringed seals observed in four communities in the southern Bering Sea. The presence of ringed seals in these locations was highly unusual. Recognizing the ongoing changes in the Bering Sea/Arctic climate, including a shifting ice extent, an effort was made to determine whether the seals were healthy animals extending their range, or instead, compromised seals coming ashore in atypical locales. Consequently, an evaluation of the health of these ringed seals was completed which involved 1) a photographic assessment in cases where a physical examination was not possible, 2) an assessment of examination findings in two seals successfully relocated to a rehabilitation facility, and 3) an assessment of necropsy findings in three seals that died on site, during transport, or after admission to the rehabilitation facility. Results of these evaluations are most consistent with a conclusion that the seals’ health was compromised, possibly as a result of challenging conditions associated with Bering Sea and Arctic climate change.