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7/11/2018
Scientists study shark attacks on seals

JUNEAU (AP) — Scientists are investigating if great white sharks are responsible for attacks on seals in waters off Alaska.

Some seals in the Bering Sea have turned up with chewed off flippers, large bite marks or beheaded in recent years, Alaska's Energy Desk reported Monday.

The bite marks do not appear to match the usual suspect, said Brandon Ahmasuk, a subsistence coordinator for Kawerak, an arm of the Bering Straits Native Corporation.

"When we first started getting pictures of these, we started asking local fish and game and the fisheries department, 'could this be a shark attack?'" Ahmasuk said. "Right off the bat, we kind of got laughed at."

Killer whales have been known to maim their prey, but the bite marks looked too clean, Ahmasuk said. Orcas tend to tear their food apart.

About 20 seal maimings have been reported, Ahmasuk said. Pictures of the bite marks were sent to a shark expert in Hawaii.

"Within five minutes we got a response back: this is a classic shark bite," Ahmasuk said.

Great White Sharks in Alaska waters are not unheard of. The only documented account was from nearly 40 years ago when fishermen pulled one from the Bering Sea.

Hunters spotted a large sea predator in the water off St. Lawrence Island about seven years ago, Ahmasuk said. The hunters observed what appeared to be a 16-foot (5-meter) shark, but the predator was not confirmed as a great white.

Scientists are gathering more information from coastal communities to try to give a definitive answer, Ahmasuk said. More great whites could be nearing Alaska as ocean temperatures rise.