A diseased ringed seal has turned up in Southeast Alaska, far outside the animal’s normal range. Last week, a sluggish seal with hardly any hair was found hauled out along shore near Yakutat. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sent the seal to Anchorage where it was euthanized and an autopsy was performed. The seal was found to be suffering from the same mysterious disease that is affecting ice seals and walruses on the North Slope and in the northern Bering Sea. Julie Speegle is a spokesperson for NOAA. She says it’s worrisome the disease may be spreading.
This is the first ringed seal ever found in the Gulf of Alaska. NOAA has been investigating the cause of the unusual marine mammal disease since last summer. The illness has killed more than 60 seals. In walruses, the disease appears to be less severe and no deaths have been attributed to it. Speegle says the investigating team is making progress towards solving the mystery. Last month, they ruled out radiation as a potential cause. But she says there aren’t any easy answers.
The illness has been declared an “Unusual Mortality Event” which frees up more funding to continue the investigation. But Speegle says some UME cases are never resolved. She is asking hunters to report any sick looking seals they encounter this spring to NOAA.
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