Mystery mass death of seals on remote, uninhabited Siberian island under investigation
Nearly 300 fur seals from the northern region and Steller sea lions were discovered dead in a mysterious mass death on a tiny island uninhabited in Siberia.
Tyuleniy Island, also known as the ‘Island of Seals,’ is situated within the Sea of Okhotsk and is an important breeding area for the northern fur seal ( Callorhinus ursinus).
Photographs taken by conservationists from The Friends of the Ocean Wildlife Relief Group and the Club Boomerang environmental educational organization showcase dead animals scattered along the coast. The majority of creatures killed were seals. Also, dead birds have been discovered.
In the translation of a Telegram posting, local affiliates of the state-owned broadcaster GTRK stated that the fatality was unknown, as toxins, poisons, and viral infections were all possibilities.
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Maria Chistaeva, the chief veterinarian at Chistaeva, the chief veterinarian of Primorsky Aquarium, was on the island, told GTRK avian influenza ” cannot be ruled out” as a possible cause.
“For me, it is necessary to urgently find out the cause of mass death, take tests and study; tests for both toxins and viral infection,” she said.
A later Telegram message by GTRK Sakhalin stated that Federal Supervisory Natural Resources Management Service specialists were for an emergency visit to the island. A team of experts collected biosamples, which were then sent for analysis. According to the report, the results should be available within about a month.
Authorities have created quarantine areas for the avian flu across several coastal regions on the island of Sakhalin Island, which sits 10 miles (17 kilometers) from Tyuleniy Island.
Highly pathogenic avian flu (HPAI), widely called, has caused havoc on the sea bird population worldwide because a particularly deadly strain, called H5N1, was found in the gull population in 2021.
Since the beginning of this year, scientists have been studying whether the virus has been introduced into marine mammals. Researchers suspect that bird-to-seal transmissions of avian influenza could be occurring in areas like Maine or coastal Peru in areas where H5N1 is a significant threat to the wild bird population. More than 3,000 sea lion deaths were reported in Peru between January and February in this particular year. Many of them proved positive for H5N1.
The Tyuleniy expedition group comprising volunteers, veterinarians, and scientists has visited the island to remove marine pollution from plastics and help seals stuck by nets made of plastic or other waste.
Before the mass death was revealed, the organization claimed they had helped save the lives of 151 Northern fur seals. Northern fur seals have been classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because of their declining rates of pup births.
In the past, the northern fur seal was hunting as part of the global fur trade and is currently under threat due to the competition from fisheries and the effects of climate change.