WELLS, Maine (AP) – Federal officials investigating the killing and mutilation of seals along the coast of New England say a decapitated seal found along the Maine seaboard appears to be unrelated to poaching.

Greg Jakush, president of Marine Animal Lifeline, said a badly decomposed seal found in Wells last week had been dead for some time. Investigators were unable to determine what might have killed the seal, though Jakush said it was likely from another cause.

Investigators believe someone is killing male seals, skinning them and removing their sex organs to supply a black market.

Some people believe the organs are an aphrodisiac.

Bodies of seals that were skinned and had body parts removed were first discovered near Hampton Beach, N.H., last summer. A third skinned seal was spotted by kayakers in Kittery in January.

Mark Oswell, spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said there have been at least five cases of mutilated seals, stretching from Maine to Plymouth, Mass.

The fisheries services expects to release a more complete list detailing the cases later this month.

The seal in Wells had aroused suspicions because it was decapitated, which fit the pattern of previous cases. But markings on the seal’s body led investigators to believe they had found the seal once before.

Killing a marine mammal is a federal crime, but seal killings continue to be a common occurrence. Fishery owners target them because they have been known to target pens.

Jakush said he hopes this will renew attention to seal killings.

“I wish the federal agency would pay closer attention,” he said. “It’s useless and cruel and ignorant.”

AP-ES-02-12-04 0217EST

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