Diseased Ringed Seal Turn Up In Southeast

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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Annie Feidt is the Managing Editor for Alaska's Energy Desk, a collaboration between Alaska Public Media in Anchorage, KTOO Public Media in Juneau and KUCB in Unalaska. Her reporting has taken her searching for polar bears on the Chukchi Sea ice, out to remote checkpoints on the Iditarod Trail, and up on the Eklutna Glacier with scientists studying its retreat. Her stories have been heard nationally on NPR and Marketplace. Annie’s career in radio journalism began in 1998 at Minnesota Public Radio, where she produced the regional edition of All Things Considered. She moved to Anchorage in 2004 with her husband, intending to stay in the 49th state just a few years. She has no plans to leave anytime soon. afeidt (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8443 | About Annie