Nearly 1000 Seals Dead Over the Past Five Months

( – The Kaikōura Peninsula along the northeastern part of New Zealand has seen a spate of baby seal deaths in recent weeks, with scientists and environmentalists estimating that around 1,000 seal pups have died over the last five months.

Scientists are still looking into the deaths, but post-mortem evaluations on the baby seals showed that the vast majority died due to starvation. According to Dr. Jody Weir, who serves as the marine science adviser for New Zealand’s Department, an increase in baby seal deaths, especially during the tail end of the colder winter months is normal, but hardly to the extent seen in recent months.

According to Dr. Weir, the wave of seal pup deaths began with a few dozen, but quickly rose to the hundreds. Many of the dead baby seals were less than a year old. Dr. Weir also said that many underdeveloped fetuses were also found. Scientists believe that the lack of natural food sources have caused many mother seals to experience stress, leading them to give birth early and fail to provide the proper nourishment for their pups.

Fortunately, scientists have ruled out disease as being the cause of the deaths of the seal pups in New Zealand, but in other areas, it’s a different story. In Patagonia, Argentina, researchers report than roughly 17,000 elephant seals have died due to a breakout of avian flu in the area. Even the Antarctic has not been spared, with hundreds of seals reported dead, along with fur seals, and birds such as brown skua and kelp gulls. Many other seals, while still alive, continue to exhibit symptoms of the disease such as sneezing, nasal and oral discharges, tremors, and slow head shakes. The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) also reported an outbreak of bird flu among the gentoo penguin population in the Antarctic.

Another added concern is that the bird flu – caused by the H5N1 – virus could mutate and become transmittable to mammals and eventually to humans.

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