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Cause Of Death Unclear For Steller Sea Lion In Morris Cove

Melissa Good/Sea Grant

The carcass of a Steller sea lion washed up this weekend in Unalaska's Morris Cove.

The dead marine mammal was an adult male, almost eight feet long, according to Melissa Good of the Alaska Sea Grant program.

Good said it's unclear why the animal died.

She found it on the beach Saturday in a moderate state of decay. 

"Foxes have eaten most of the internal soft tissue, so most of the organs are gone at this point," she said. "I was able to take a muscle skin sample, which can be used to look at DNA. I took a couple of whiskers as well. You can find toxin and growth information in whiskers.”

Good couldn’t do a full necropsy. The carcass had decomposed too much already.

But the smaller samples could provide valuable information about the species' population in the western Aleutian Islands.

“The western stock of Steller sea lions is endangered, so it’s really important to get any little piece of evidence that we can," said Good. "It might be a clue as to why this population is on the decline and not rebounding.”

A lab run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will analyze the samples in an effort to pinpoint why the sea lion died.    

In the meantime, Good had on update on the sick ringed seal that came ashore last month, hundreds of miles from her natural habitat.

The seal is recovering slowly at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, where veterinarians are treating her for parasites in her lungs and intestines.

While the treatment can be harsh, Good said the seal is once again eating and swimming on her own.

“She’s gained a little bit of weight," she said. "They’re giving her some pool time, so that’s a good sign.”

If the seal returns to full health, veterinarians hope to send her to a long-term marine mammal center. They say it’s unlikely she’ll be released back into the wild.

Laura Kraegel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2020. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2019. We are proud to have her back in the spring of 2023 filling in as an interim reporter for KUCB.
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