Mystery Disease Killing Alaskan Seals

Ringed seal outbreak puzzles biologists
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 14, 2011 3:33 AM CDT
Mystery Disease Killing Alaskan Seals
This image provided by the North Slope Borough shows a ringed seal displaying significant hair loss on the Arctic Ocean coast near Barrow, Alaska.    (AP Photo/North Slope Borough)

(Newser) – A mysterious disease is killing seals along Alaska's Arctic coast, and officials fear it might spread to other countries—and other species. Scores of dead or severely weakened ringed seals with telltale skin lesions and hair loss have been found along the coastline over the last few months, Reuters reports. Tissue samples from the seals have been sent to labs around the country, but experts have been unable to identify the disease, or determine whether a virus or bacteria is causing it.

story continues below

Seal-hunting season is about to begin, and "I'm scared they might pass it on one way or another and the whole ocean could be affected," an official in the far north of the state tells the Alaska Dispatch. Walruses have been found with similar lesions, although it's not clear whether they are suffering from the same disease, and biologists have spotted polar bears preying on the weakened seals. Click to see photos of the afflicted creatures. (Read more Alaska stories.)

We use cookies. By Clicking "OK" or any content on this site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. Read more in our privacy policy.
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.