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ANCHORAGE (AP) — Residents of two northwest Alaska villages say large numbers of dead mussels and shrimp-like krill have washed up on their shores.
The discoveries are contributing to fears of record warm waters causing ecosystem changes, including unusual wildlife deaths, The Anchorage Daily News reported Saturday.
Scientists are working to pinpoint what has caused a string of unusual mortality events this season and whether the deaths are related.
Lucy Oquilluk, a tribal president in the village of Teller, estimated there were 2 million dead mussels in a channel on the Seward Peninsula that she and others found in late June.
"It's something we never imagined," she said.
High school teacher Ken Stenek said he found millions of dead krill stretching for several miles along beaches near the village of Shishmaref.
In addition to mussels and krill, seabirds and seals have died along Alaska's shores recently. In southern Alaska waters, scientists also have confirmed 15 gray whale deaths.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials are investigating connections between the deaths of seals, whales and other animals in Alaska, said Barbara Mahoney, an agency coordinator.
Potential contributing factors include warm waters, a lack of prey and harmful algae blooms allowing toxins to enter the food system, Mahoney said.
"An ecosystem scale event appears to be playing out" off Alaska's coasts related to unusual ocean conditions, said Mike Brubaker, director of the Center for Climate and Health at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.
"We do not know if these events are connected or what the cause or causes are. There are a number of possibilities," Brubaker said.