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Alarming Seal Die-off Prompts Federal Response

Published on: 10/20/2011
Scientists are on the water off the New England coast this week gathering evidence to determine what caused an unusually large spike in Harbor seal deaths.The carcasses showed no signs of starvation, which kills many young Harbor seals this time of year once they’ve weaned.

Theories abound in the media, but evidence suggests that the seals could be eating fish spiked with a toxic alga called Pseudo-nitzschia. To be sure, researchers funded by the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) are testing the water for algal cells and their powerful toxin, domoic acid.

In addition, scientists at one of NCCOS’s Charleston laboratories are analyzing seal tissues for signs of toxicity. While this event is no threat to the seal population, people dine on the same food sources as the animals do. Confirmation of domoic acid poisoning would lead to extensive monitoring to ensure seafood safety.

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News updated in October 2012:Marine, NOAA officials warn local officials on threat of dead seals | SeacoastOnline.com

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