Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Seal Death Mystery Could Stay Unsolved

Scientists examining dead seal pups found on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula say the creatures are so badly decomposed it may not be possible to determine how they died.

The bodies of 51 New Zealand fur seal pups and two young adults were found washed up near Port Lincoln and at Wanna Beach in the Lincoln National Park.

A local man and his son made the discovery on Sunday evening.
Post-mortems have been carried out on three of the pups by University of Adelaide veterinary pathologists.

Dr Lucy Woolford says the seals were between four and eight weeks old and died up to 10 days ago.

She says there are no signs of malicious treatment.

"The two main causes we're thinking of, has there been some kind of mismothering incident," she said.

"Whether there's been a problem with the mother seals either through health or through some kind of disturbance that they have abandoned their seal pups en masse essentially or whether there is some kind of infectious disease or problem within the pups themselves.

"The fact that 51 seal pups have all died around the same time is very alarming and we're hoping it doesn't escalate to something further. It could be indicative of a bigger problem."

The seals were found along a six-kilometre stretch of shoreline and more bodies are expected to be found as volunteers search nearby beaches.

The Australian Marine Wildlife Research and Rescue Organisation says one seal that was found alive is being cared for.
The South Australian Museum's mammal researcher, zoologist Dr Catherine Kemper, says she has never heard of so many deaths in one instance before.

But she does not foresee any long-term impacts on the local seal population.

"They are breeding now. Fur seals have an annual breeding cycle. They drop their pups in December-January each year," she said.

"I have no idea why they would be dead. There is a very big fur seal colony on Neptune Island that's not far from Wanna [Beach].

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