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The BBC's Caroline Wyatt
"Russian experts warned that half of the baby seals would die"
 real 56k

Friday, 11 May, 2001, 23:59 GMT 00:59 UK
Seals 'saved by warmer weather'
Baby seal BBS
The seals had become stranded on the ice floes
By Caroline Wyatt in Archangel

Russian environmentalists say that the improving weather conditions on the White Sea have helped avert the mass starvation of baby Greenland seals.

Experts had warned earlier in the week that up to 200,000 could starve if they remained stuck on the ice floes, unable to reach their feeding grounds in the Barents Sea.

Map showing Barents Sea and White Sea
I accompanied Russian experts on their first proper assessment of the situation on a helicopter fly-over of the White Sea.

For miles across the White Sea there was nothing but a vast expanse of ice, slowly shifting, cracking and melting - no sign of any seal pups stuck on a bottleneck of ice, just a few hundred adult Greenland seals resting there.

Natural remedy

It was only as the helicopter drew closer to the entrance to the Barents Sea that more seal pups appeared, none of them stranded. The environmentalists and Russian government officials on board the flight looked relieved.

The crisis they had been anticipating seemed to be resolving itself naturally.

Baby seal
This baby seal could end its life as a hat
Warmer weather and the right winds were pushing the baby seals on the ice floes out of the area and up to their feeding grounds in the Barents Sea.

Local officials say they will continue to monitor the area, but both the experts and the government say there is no longer any need for a mass rescue.

Human threat

However, animal welfare groups warn that the seals still face another threat - this time from mankind.

Russia is one of the few places where it is still legal to kill seal pups during their first two weeks of life, to sell their white fur for winter hats.

Another cull is due to take place next spring when the seals return to the White Sea to breed.

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See also:

08 May 01 | Europe
Stranded seals face slow death
18 Apr 01 | Media reports
Russian 'ice expedition' to save seals
04 Nov 00 | Media reports
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