Mystery Illness Affects Ringed Seals
Symptoms starting to appear in Pacific walruses also
For the past eight years, federal and state biologists have been studying mysterious hair loss in ringed seals in the Arctic Ocean. Now, they say the problem is becoming much more serious.
In July, biologists began receiving reports of dead and diseased seals in the Bering Strait, and since then they’ve counted more than 130 animals affected by the mystery illness.
The animals suffered from lesions on their faces and hind flippers, and further testing revealed liver spots, fluid in their lungs and strange brain growths.
The reports keep rolling in, leading officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to declare the deaths an “unusual mortality event.”
Biologists and animal pathologists from NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have begun an in-depth investigation into the causes of the disease, but say they’re still coming up empty.
Now, the same symptoms are beginning to appear in Pacific walrus populations as well, but biologists say it’s still too early to determine just how contagious – and dangerous – the disease is.
Biologists say possible factors include immune system related diseases, fungal infections and man-made or bio-toxins, and they’re also considering the possibility that one disease caused the sores, which then allowed other pathogens to infect the seals and cause some of the other symptoms.