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The BBC's Caroline Wyatt reports
"There is no time to lose"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 8 May, 2001, 13:52 GMT 14:52 UK
Stranded seals face slow death
Baby seal
The seals are trapped on ice floes without enough food
Freak weather in Russia has doomed 200,000 baby seals to starve to death, a Russian scientist has warned.

Their mass death from hunger is inevitable

Vladimir Potelov, sea mammals expert
The seals are trapped on ice floes in the White Sea, after unusually strong winds stopped them drifting to their normal feeding grounds in the Barents Sea.

"Because they are not adapted to life in the White Sea... their mass death from hunger is inevitable," said Vladimir Potelov of the Polar Institute of Fish and Oceanography.

He said scientists had flown over the area in April and found a "significant portion" of the cubs to be stranded.

Normal drift

The seals, which swim south to the White Sea to breed, normally drift back north on ice floes to the richer feeding grounds of the Barents Sea.

Map showing Barents Sea and White Sea
But this year, the area has been hit by strong north-easterly winds, halting the normal drift patterns.

Mr Potelov said it would be impossible to evacuate or feed all the cubs, but it might be possible to save some.

"It is possible to catch those which are searching for food on the shore, transport them to inland waterways and then let them out into the southern part of the Barents Sea," he said.

Harsh winter

But he said his institute, based in the northern Russian city of Arkhangelsk, had no money to arrange any rescue attempt.

"We need help, financial help in the first place, to organise the rescue of the seals," he said.

A similar disaster occurred in 1966, when up to 300,000 baby seals died - around 60% of the total number born that year.

An unusually harsh winter in Russia has already caused problems for other wildlife.

Endangered Siberian tigers in Russia's far east have been struggling to survive after plummeting temperatures wiped out large numbers of their usual prey, which include reindeer and wild boar.

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