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Alaska: unidentified outbreak kills dozens of ringed seals- Walruses ill as well - Ribbon seal found with syndrome 3/12

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  • Alaska: unidentified outbreak kills dozens of ringed seals- Walruses ill as well - Ribbon seal found with syndrome 3/12

    Source: http://www.alaskadispatch.com/articl...s-ringed-seals

    In Alaska's Arctic, mysterious outbreak kills dozens of ringed seals
    Alex DeMarban | Oct 12, 2011

    A mysterious and potentially widespread disease is thought to have contributed to the deaths of dozens of ringed seals along Alaska's Arctic coast. Scores more are sickened, some so ill that skin lesions bleed when touched...
    Last edited by Emily; April 8th, 2012, 06:31 AM. Reason: Added species to title

  • #2
    Re: Alaska: unidentified outbreak kills dozens of ringed seals

    Note the condition involves hair loss and lesions on the skin, respiratory system, liver, lymphoid system, heart and brain. Also: "Laboratory findings have been inconclusive to date but samples have tested negative for pox virus, herpes virus, papillomavirus, morbillivirus and calicivirus."

    Some walruses are showing up with similar conditions.

    Mysterious disease takes toll on ringed seals in Alaska Arctic

    An unknown disease is killing or weakening scores of ringed seals along Alaska's north coast, where the animals have been found with lesions on their hind flippers and inside their mouths.....

    Read more: http://www.adn.com/2011/10/13/211877...#ixzz1aiWNhRms

    .
    "The next major advancement in the health of American people will be determined by what the individual is willing to do for himself"-- John Knowles, Former President of the Rockefeller Foundation

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Alaska: unidentified outbreak kills dozens of ringed seals

      The novel orange fungus was discovered in Kivalina, Alaska in August.

      http://www.flutrackers.com/forum/sho...d.php?t=171730

      The new disease afflicting Ringed Seals was first observed in July. Some of the fungal agent symptoms in pinnipeds described in the article below seem to have some similarities to the new disease in Ringed Seals.

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/arti...00014-0027.pdf
      “‘i love myself.’
      the
      quietest.
      simplest.
      most
      powerful.
      revolution
      ever.” ---- nayyirah waheed

      Avatar: Franz Marc, Liegender Hund im Schnee 1911 (My posts are not intended as advice or professional assessments of any kind.)

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Alaska: unidentified outbreak kills dozens of ringed seals- Walruses ill as well

        Source: http://www.alaskadispatch.com/articl...ng-illness-too

        Walruses hauling out in Northwestern Alaska with festering illness, too
        Alex DeMarban | Oct 13, 2011

        Arctic ringed seals aren't the only marine mammal suffering an unusual skin-lesion outbreak along Alaska's northern coasts.

        Walruses that have hauled out by the thousands at Point Lay in Northwest Alaska during recent summers -- an event driven by climate change -- are also turning up with bizarre, festering sores. Scientists estimate perhaps 600 are infected. Instead of wounds on their faces and rear flippers, red abscesses pepper the animals' entire bodies. But apparently only a few have perished.

        Still, scientists from a number of agencies are working to answer several questions, including whether the outbreaks in the two species are related. They also worry the lesions could eventually lead to deaths among Pacific walrus, an animal more than 100,000 strong that's being considered for protections under the Endangered Species Act...

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Alaska: unidentified outbreak kills dozens of ringed seals- Walruses ill as well

          Diseased Ice Seals


          <!-- Main Content Section --><!-- Begin Content Area -->Disease Outbreak in Northern Alaska



          A diseased seal with lesions and hair loss. Photos: B. Sinnok





          General Information
          News Releases
          • November 1, 2011. Public Service Announcement on Arctic Seal Disease
          • October 13, 2011. NOAA Scientists seeking answers in skin lesion disease outbreak in ringed seals

          ← Protected Resources | Seals | Ice Seals

          http://www.fakr.noaa.gov/protectedre...ed/default.htm
          "Safety and security don't just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear."
          -Nelson Mandela

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          • #6
            Re: Alaska: unidentified outbreak kills dozens of ringed seals- Walruses ill as well

            Source: http://www.alaskadispatch.com/articl...ed-seal-deaths

            NOAA: Virus not responsible for mysterious Alaska ringed seal deaths
            Alex DeMarban | Dec 20, 2011

            A federal agency said Tuesday that tests indicate a virus did not cause the deaths or illnesses of more than 100 Arctic Alaska ringed seals found with skin sores, ulcers on internal organs, patchy hair loss and other symptoms.

            National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists announced via press release that despite numerous tests, it still does not know what's causing the illness...

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            • #7
              Re: Alaska: unidentified outbreak kills dozens of ringed seals- Walruses ill as well

              NEWS RELEASE
              December 20, 2011
              Julie Speegle, 907-586-7032 w., 907-321-7032 c.
              Bruce Woods, USFWS, 907-786-3695
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              Ringed seal with sores on skin (top), Seal with sores on eyes (middle) and Seal flipper lesions (bottom). Photos: North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management
              DEATHS OF RINGED SEALS IN ALASKA DECLARED AN UNUSUAL MORTALITY EVENT; WALRUS PENDING

              Cause not yet identified; public encouraged to report sightings of diseased or dead animals
              NOAA today declared the recent deaths of ringed seals in the Arctic and Bering Strait regions of Alaska an unusual mortality event, triggering a focused, expert investigation into the cause. A decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on making such a declaration for Pacific walrus in Alaska is pending.

              Since mid-July, more than 60 dead and 75 diseased seals, most of them ringed seals, have been reported in Alaska, with reports continuing to come in. During their fall survey, scientists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also identified diseased and dead walruses at the annual mass haul-out at Point Lay.

              Seals and walruses suffering from this disease have skin sores, usually on the hind flippers or face, and patchy hair loss. Some of the diseased mammals have exhibited labored breathing and appear lethargic. Scientists have not yet identified a single cause for this disease, though tests indicate a virus is not the cause.

              Hunters continue to see numerous healthy animals, and despite considerable contact with seals by hunters and field research personnel throughout this event, no similar illnesses in humans have been reported. Still, it is not known whether the disease can be transmitted to humans, pets, or other animals. Native subsistence hunters should use traditional and customary safe handling practices, and the Alaska Division of Public Health recommends fully cooking all meat and thoroughly washing hands and equipment with a water/bleach solution.

              Any member of the public who encounters a seal or walrus that looks sick or behaves unusually, such as by not fleeing from humans, should avoid approaching or making contact with the animal. Sick or dead marine mammals should be reported to the following agencies, based on where the animal is seen:

              North Slope area: North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management: 907-852-0350
              Bering Strait region: Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program: 1-800-478-2202 or 907-443-2397
              Elsewhere in Alaska: NOAA Fisheries Alaska marine mammal stranding hotline: 1-877-925-7773
              Necropsies and laboratory tests to date have found skin lesions in most cases, as well as fluid in the lungs, white spots on the liver, and abnormal growths in the brain. Some seals and walruses have undersized lymph nodes, which may indicate compromised immune systems.

              Testing continues for a wide range of possible factors that may be responsible for the animals’ condition, including immune system-related diseases, fungi, man-made and bio-toxins, radiation exposure, contaminants, and stressors related to sea ice change.

              Walruses and ringed seals in Russia, and ringed seals in Canada, have reportedly suffered similar symptoms. While it is not clear if the disease events are related, the timing and location of the disease suggests the possibility of transmission between the populations, or shared exposure to an environmental cause.

              Since early November, federal agencies and partners have been consulting with the Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events – a group of experts from scientific and academic institutions, conservation organizations, and state and federal agencies – to consider if the seal and walrus deaths met the criteria for an unusual mortality event. Late last week, the Working Group recommended NOAA and the Fish and Wildlife Service declare an unusual mortality event.

              The rigorous, collaborative investigation into these deaths has and will continue to involve the North Slope Borough, numerous organizations, local communities, Tribal entities, and members of the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network, including the Alaska SeaLife Center, Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game. These investigations may require months or even years of data collection and analysis.

              NOAA’s Alaska regional fisheries website, alaskafisheries.noaa.gov, has more in-depth information about this disease outbreak in ringed seals and walruses. NOAA will make any new information available to the public on this website and will work with local native organizations, including the Ice Seal Committee and the Eskimo Walrus Commission, to ensure that information is distributed to affected communities. Any findings of public health significance will be immediately released.

              NOAA's mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.

              To learn more about NOAA Fisheries in Alaska, visit alaskafisheries.noaa.gov or www.afsc.noaa.gov.

              http://www.fakr.noaa.gov/newsrelease...ration2011.htm
              Twitter: @RonanKelly13
              The views expressed are mine alone and do not represent the views of my employer or any other person or organization.

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              • #8
                Re: Alaska: unidentified outbreak kills dozens of ringed seals- Walruses ill as well

                Audio teleconference December 20, 2011. (mp3 format)

                http://www.fakr.noaa.gov/protectedre...ence122011.mp3
                Twitter: @RonanKelly13
                The views expressed are mine alone and do not represent the views of my employer or any other person or organization.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Alaska: unidentified outbreak kills dozens of ringed seals- Walruses ill as well

                  Source: http://www.avma.org/onlnews/javma/feb12/120215d.asp

                  posted February 1, 2012
                  Seal disease investigation intensifies

                  The investigation into a fatal disease among ringed seals in the Arctic and Bering Strait regions of Alaska has intensified following a federal agency's determination the outbreak constitutes an "unusual mortality event."

                  The decision by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this past December means additional resources will be dedicated to identifying what's behind the illnesses and deaths of more than 100 seals since the summer (see JAVMA, Dec. 15, 2011, page 1524). As of press time in January, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service had not determined whether it would declare the outbreak an unusual event...

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Alaska: unidentified outbreak kills dozens of ringed seals- Walruses ill as well

                    Source: http://www.alaskadispatch.com/articl...r-normal-range

                    Diseased seal shows up in Southeast Alaska, far from normal range
                    Alex DeMarban | Mar 07, 2012

                    The mystery disease that killed or sickened at least 135 seals in the Arctic has been discovered for the first time in a yearling seal that traveled far from its range to Southeast Alaska.

                    A fisherman there found a "fairly bald, sickly-looking, and lethargic" seal hauled out on the shore near Yakutat last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported.

                    After hearing about the seal, thought to be a ringed seal, officials recommended it be sent to Anchorage for analysis. The animal was so sick it had to be euthanized, the agency said in a press release...

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                    • #11
                      Illness plaguing seals and walruses brings disease hunters to Alaska

                      http://www.alaskadispatch.com/articl...hunters-alaska

                      Illness plaguing seals and walruses brings disease hunters to Alaska
                      Jill Burke | Mar 21, 2012


                      Mysterious outbreak killing Arctic Alaska ringed seals
                      Walruses suffer from similar disease afflicting Alaska ringed seals

                      Although the skin ailments that appear to be affecting seals and walruses in Alaska have a generic name -- ulceratitive dermatitus disease syndrome -- there are many unanswered questions about the illnesses. Scientists and hunters here and in Russia want to better understand what's causing the sicknesses and how concerned about them they should be.

                      For example, while skin ulcers and other conditions -- hair loss, lethargy, oozing sores, bloody mucous, congested lungs -- are affecting seals and walruses, it's not known if the two species are suffering from the same sickness. And although much studying has been done to determine whether it's the result of a virus or radiation, and no tests have linked these origins to the illness, it's not yet known what the root cause is. Toxins and environmental factors, like harmful algae blooms and thermal burns, are under consideration. As is whether allergy, hormone or nutritional problems might play a role.


                      more at above link..
                      Last edited by sharon sanders; March 25th, 2012, 02:56 PM. Reason: shortened
                      "If you could for a moment rise up out of your own beloved skin and appraise ant, human, and virus as equally resourceful beings, you might admire the accord they have all struck in Africa. Back in your skin of course, you'll shriek for a cure. But remember: air travel, roads, cities, prostitution, the congregation of people for efficient commerce - these are gifts of godspeed to the virus"
                      The Poisonwood Bible

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                      • #12
                        Re: Alaska: unidentified outbreak kills dozens of ringed seals- Walruses ill as well - Ribbon seal found with syndrome 3/12

                        The seal had so much hair loss that the distinctive ribbon color pattern was gone, but ringed seals are very, very rare in the Gulf of Alaska and studies confirmed the seal had to be ribbon seal.

                        http://www.akbizmag.com/Alaska-Busin...t-Ringed-Seal/
                        Diseased Seal Found Near Yakutat Determined to be Ribbon, Not Ringed Seal

                        Photo: Alaska Department of Fish and Game
                        Juneau, AK — Marine mammal scientists say the diseased seal found near Yakutat last month has turned out to be a ribbon seal, not a ringed seal as originally thought.
                        [snip]
                        Although scientists still don’t know what is causing of the disease, they have ruled out numerous bacteria and viruses known to affect marine mammals. Advanced testing techniques (i.e. deep sequencing 4-5-4) for unidentified infectious agents is continuing as well as further testing for potential other causes including man-made and biotoxins, radiation, contaminants, auto-immune diseases, nutritional, hormonal and environmental factors. Recently, tests for domoic acid and PSP/saxitoxin were negative or of such low readings as to be clinically insignificant...
                        “‘i love myself.’
                        the
                        quietest.
                        simplest.
                        most
                        powerful.
                        revolution
                        ever.” ---- nayyirah waheed

                        Avatar: Franz Marc, Liegender Hund im Schnee 1911 (My posts are not intended as advice or professional assessments of any kind.)

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Alaska: unidentified outbreak kills dozens of ringed seals- Walruses ill as well - Ribbon seal found with syndrome 3/12

                          NEWS RELEASE
                          April 5, 2012
                          Julie Speegle, 907-586-7032 w., 907-321-7032 c.
                          DISEASED SEAL FOUND NEAR YAKUTAT DETERMINED TO BE RIBBON, NOT RINGED SEAL

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Size:  37.5 KB
                          The ribbon seal skull is on the left and the ringed seal skull on the right. The ribbon seal has a shorter snout and larger, rounder eye orbits. The bridge of the nose is much broader in ribbon seals, and the cranium is very broad.. Photo: Alaska Department of Fish and Game
                          Juneau, AK — Marine mammal scientists say the diseased seal found near Yakutat last month has turned out to be a ribbon seal, not a ringed seal as originally thought.

                          Morphology—the study of form and structure—and genetics independently confirmed that the seal was a ribbon seal.

                          Genetic testing conducted at NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center determined the gene sequence was a 93-percent match to a ribbon seal. An examination of the skull by Alaska Department of Fish and Game scientist Lori Quakenbush found the skull had a shorter snout, rounder eye orbits, a broad cranium, and broader nose bridge consistent with a ribbon seal's skull.

                          The yearling seal was discovered hauled out near Yakutat last month. It was reported to be fairly bald, sickly-looking, and lethargic. NOAA Fisheries scientists advised that the animal be captured and sent to Anchorage for examination by a pathologist and wildlife veterinarians.

                          When the seal pup arrived in Anchorage, it was found to be so ill it had to be euthanized.

                          Findings indicated that the seal had similar symptoms to those in the declared 2011 Northern Pinniped Unusual Mortality Event (UME), which has been affecting ice seals and Pacific walruses in the Arctic and Bering Strait regions of Alaska since last summer. The primary symptoms are hair loss, skin sores, and lethargic behavior.

                          Given the fact that sightings of ringed seals in the Gulf of Alaska are extremely rare and that most of the distinctly-patterned fur was missing from the seal found near Yakutat, a sample of its DNA was sent for analysis to determine species identity.

                          Since last July, nearly 150 seals have been reported in Alaska. Most of the seals were ringed seals. Scientists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have also discovered similar symptoms in Pacific walruses at the Point Lay haul-out.

                          Although scientists still don't know what is causing of the disease, they have ruled out numerous bacteria and viruses known to affect marine mammals. Advanced testing techniques (i.e. deep sequencing 4-5-4) for unidentified infectious agents is continuing as well as further testing for potential other causes including man-made and biotoxins, radiation, contaminants, auto-immune diseases, nutritional, hormonal and environmental factors. Recently, tests for domoic acid and PSP/saxitoxin were negative or of such low readings as to be clinically insignificant.

                          If you find a marine mammal which appears diseased or distressed, please call NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at 1-877-925-7773.

                          Information on the UME assessment progress and findings can be found at:

                          Ice seals: http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/prot...ed/default.htm
                          Walruses: http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/mmm/...estigation.htm
                          NOAA's mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.

                          To learn more about NOAA Fisheries in Alaska, visit alaskafisheries.noaa.gov or www.afsc.noaa.gov.

                          http://www.fakr.noaa.gov/newsrelease...seal040512.htm
                          Twitter: @RonanKelly13
                          The views expressed are mine alone and do not represent the views of my employer or any other person or organization.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Alaska: unidentified outbreak kills dozens of ringed seals- Walruses ill as well - Ribbon seal found with syndrome 3/12

                            This article is from last October, but might have details on a necropsy that are not in other articles already posted.

                            http://www.alaskadispatch.com/articl...lues?page=full
                            What illness is harming Alaska's ringed seals? Veterinarians search for clues.
                            Alex DeMarban | Oct 25, 2011
                            [snip]
                            The site of this kill indicates that whatever ails ringed seals may not confined to the North Slope.

                            This ringed seal had the same symptoms as the others the veterinarians have seen, but it was relatively healthy, said Burek-Huntington, judging from its two-inch layer of fat and well-developed muscles. Also, the lesions ringing the bulging eyes, and the bright pink sores on the rear flippers, were fewer and smaller.

                            But it had bigger problems. With help from Tuomi, Burek-Huntington rolled the wobbly bag of flesh onto its back. It appeared to be in mid-molt, with a shiny, copper-colored coat covering the rings that give the animals its name. Molting should have ended much earlier, Burek-Huntington said, peeling off tufts of fur and placing them in plastic bags.

                            And once the animal had been sliced open -- its skin lay off to the sides like an unbuttoned parka -- the team found more clues in the innards.

                            The liver was more orange-colored than it should have been, and had abnormal spots. Hepatitis and swollen livers have been a common symptom in the dissected seals.
                            [snip]
                            The lymph nodes were also inflamed, discolored and sometimes spotted, proof the seal had an infection of some sort.

                            "Guys, we need a camera," said Burek-Huntingon, calling to an assistant after finding an unusually large lymph node near the rear flippers.

                            "Whoa," said the assistant before snapping away.
                            ....
                            “‘i love myself.’
                            the
                            quietest.
                            simplest.
                            most
                            powerful.
                            revolution
                            ever.” ---- nayyirah waheed

                            Avatar: Franz Marc, Liegender Hund im Schnee 1911 (My posts are not intended as advice or professional assessments of any kind.)

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: Alaska: unidentified outbreak kills dozens of ringed seals- Walruses ill as well - Ribbon seal found with syndrome 3/12

                              Here's the lastest update from NOAA/U.S. Fish and Wildlife. Test results still not reported are most man-made pollutants, including radionuclides, and also the advanced screening to find a new pathogen.

                              I don't see testing for iodine-131 being done, nor any analysis on thyroid tissue.

                              There are necropsy photos at the link.

                              http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/prot...ume_qa0612.pdf
                              Northern Pinnipeds (ice seals and walruses)
                              Unusual Mortality Event (UME)
                              Q&A
                              June 25, 2012


                              How many seals in Alaska have been reported ill? How many necropsies (animal autopsies) have been performed?
                              In 2011, over 100 seal strandings were reported. Approximately 60% of animals were alive or moribund (near death) and approximately 40% were found dead. In 2012, Native subsistence hunting communities have documented over 40 seals (primarily adult bearded and ringed seals) with clinical signs, namely: hair loss, weakness, unresponsiveness to human approach, skin sores, or some combination thereof. As the Alaska Native subsistence bearded seal harvest in the Bering Strait region precedes hunting in the Chukchi and Beaufort Sea, all seal reports for 2012 have been from the Bering Strait region.
                              Pacific walruses are less affected and cases tend to involve juveniles and subadults. There have been no reports of widespread illness or mortality in subsistence harvested walruses in 2012. In 2011, approximately 6% of the herd hauled out at Point Lay in September had round skin ulcers or sores throughout their bodies; the majority looked healthy. There have been few reports of skin wounds in Pacific walruses from the Bering Strait region or Bristol Bay, and high definition photos from Round Island haulouts have been reviewed and support this as well.
                              Necropsies have been performed on 28 deceased ice seals (ringed, bearded, spotted, ribbon) and two deceased walruses. Small skin samples have also been collected from a few live, but sick, animals. Subsistence-harvested animals have yielded the best samples because those animals have not yet developed secondary infections or other diseases, which can obscure the primary wound process.

                              What characterizes the UME-related illness in these animals?
                              In order to recognize and help differentiate the UME condition from other unrelated disease conditions in ice seals and Pacific walruses, a “case definition” has been developed. Current case definitions are based on available clinical and necropsy data and will continue to be reviewed and revised as more information becomes available. Preliminary pathological description in ice seals and walruses summarizes what is currently known about the histopathological features of ulcerative dermatitis.

                              SEALS:
                              Based on review of pathologic findings to date, we believe there are two categories of disease in ice seals related to this UME (referred to as case type 1 and type 2 below). All animals consistently feature abnormal hair loss due to lack of regrowth (alopecia or baldness) or persistence of old coats. Old hair is distinguishable from developing hair by its dull, yellowish or “sun bleached” appearance.
                              Case Type 1: animals have varying degrees of hair loss or baldness and otherwise seem healthy. Ringed seals with these signs have been reported by subsistence communities from the Bering Strait and North Slope for many years, but not in great numbers. However, in 2011 reports from hunters indicated a significant increase in the number of affected animals.
                              Case Type 2: animals appear/act “sick”. They have skin sores, often around the eyes, snout, and hind flippers. Hunter and biologists observations indicate that many of the affected seals are easily approachable/remain hauled out on land for prolonged periods of time.
                              WALRUS:

                              Affected walruses feature a very distinctive pattern of small ulcers or skin sores widely distributed across the body. Sores tend to be the same size and fresh (new) lesions may ooze bloody fluid. Walruses normally
                              have many scars and cuts, so it can be difficult to determine whether they are cases. (Photo by Tony Fishbach)
                              What parts of seals/walruses are being tested?
                              Since we are not yet able to define the optimal specimen to be tested at any given stage of the illness the necropsy protocol for sample collection is extensive and highly detailed. The samples collected for testing include:
                              Hair
                              Skin
                              Skin lesions
                              Nasal swabs
                              Rectal swabs
                              Blubber
                              Lymph nodes
                              Tongue
                              Brain
                              Muscle
                              Chest fluid (if present)
                              Thymus
                              Blood
                              Lung
                              Heart
                              Bile
                              Liver
                              Spleen
                              Kidney
                              Urine
                              Stomach contents
                              Feces
                              What tests for pathogens are being performed?
                              What other tests are being done to understand the disease?

                              To date, numerous tests for viral, bacterial pathogens, and biotoxins have been performed. Despite extensive laboratory analysis, no specific disease agent or process has been identified. This may suggest that the underlying cause of this disease is most likely complex, involving a variety of factors.
                              The following disease agents, some of which cause ulcerative skin disease in marine animals, have been screened for and ruled out as possible causes: Calicivirus, Morbillivirus, Pan-Picornavirus, Herpesvirus, Papillomavirus, Poxvirus, Parapoxvirus, Vesicular Stomatitis Virus, Foot and Mouth Disease, Circovirus, Influenza A/B, Arterivirus, Adenovirus, Coronavirus, Enterovirus, Flavivirus, Orbivirus, Orthohepadnavirus, Paramyxovirus, Rhabdovirus, and Papovavirus. Advanced molecular screening for unknown viruses has been a continued effort. Results of “4-5-4” research (an advanced molecular testing technique) are still pending.
                              In addition, tissue samples have been collected for heavy metal, radionuclides (radiation), and persistent organic pollutant analysis. Results for these studies are pending and will be made available as soon as possible.
                              During the summer of 2012, additional biological sampling from live captured ice seals during permitted research (captured and released following health assessment) is scheduled to take place and may help to further resolve the understanding of the disease process associated with this UME.
                              What environmental factors are currently being investigated?
                              When are the environmental results anticipated?

                              An oceanography working group of Arctic researchers was established under the framework of this UME investigation. Factors that are being investigated in relation to this disease include water temperatures, changes in sea ice, ocean salinity and pH, terrestrial outflows, ocean currents, and composition and amount of food sources for each seal species.

                              What are veterinarians/pathologists finding inside dead pinnipeds that they consider unusual? Which internal organs are affected?
                              Post-mortem examinations of animals with skin sores have revealed a variety of changes in internal organs. Among the most striking is bloody fluid accumulation in the lungs (which are occasionally collapsed and/or discolored). Other changes include softened livers and a rare enlargement of the heart. Changes in the lungs are most commonly seen in animals that strand and die on the beach, and are likely due to the animals having septicemia/blood poisoning, secondary to the skin lesions. Almost all the seals necropsied had some form of hepatitis or inflammation of the liver. Immune organs such as lymph nodes and the thymus have also shown consistent changes. These changes include enlarged lymph nodes draining the skin and very reduced thymus glands in many of the young animals (< 1 year). The thymus, a specialized gland in the chest, is an important part of the developing immune system. The observed immune system changes may be secondary to the ulcers and the associated bacteria but could also suggest widespread compromised immune systems in affected ice seals.

                              Are there any clinical data that suggest walruses have the same illness as the seals?
                              Are results still pending? If so, when are the results anticipated?

                              The presence of an unusual skin condition suggests that walruses have an illness similar to the seals. The affected age classes and distribution of the skin lesions on the body are different between walruses and seals; however the ulceration and inflammation of the skin with damage to blood vessels suggest a similar disease process. In 2012, there were two reports from harvested walruses with unusual skin findings: one from Savoonga and one from Chefornak. Submitted skin samples from these animals were examined and one animal had skin lesions consistent with ulcerative dermatitis while the other was consistent with lesions due to trauma.
                              Are there any clinical data that suggest polar bears have the same illness as the seals?
                              Are results still pending? If so, when are the results anticipated?

                              Veterinarians who have accompanied the U.S. Geological Survey on capture missions this year have confirmed that hair loss and other abnormal characteristics in polar bears appear similar to those observed in ice seals. However, it is unclear if the condition is the same as that exhibited by ice seals and walruses under the UME. Similar clinical signs were recorded in polar bears in 1998-1999 with up to 20% of bears reported with hair loss. Between 1999 and 2011, individual bears were anecdotally observed with comparable hair loss.
                              In 2012, 23 out of 82 bears handled had unusual hair loss/thinning and/or nodules in the Barrow, Kaktovik, and Prudhoe Bay regions. USGS has collected a number of biological samples (blood, biopsies, feces, urine, hair) from both affected and unaffected bears for histopathology, genetic sequencing of viruses, fungal and bacterial culture, contaminants, and serology. Microscopic examination of skin lesions revealed changes distinct to those observed in seals and walruses and most likely represents a different condition in polar bears.
                              As reported by local hunters from Gambell, St. Lawrence Island, all polar bears harvested during spring 2012 were normal and healthy. Subsequent examinations of the hides by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service walrus harvest monitor confirmed the normal condition. No hair loss or ulcers were present.
                              What is the new date for release of University of Alaska Fairbanks radiation testing results?
                              Muscle and liver samples from sick and healthy seals were collected in 2011 and 2012 for radionuclide analysis, specifically cesium 134/137. All the muscle samples had to undergo an extensive four week freeze-drying process in preparation for analysis and are currently being analyzed. Preliminary analysis of control samples from healthy seals has been completed and composite tissue samples from diseased seal samples are undergoing analysis. As soon as final results are available they will be provided.
                              Why are the seals tired / approachable?
                              Seals that were tired and approachable were most likely in the end stages of the disease. Based on necropsy findings and microbial culture results, many seals generally had bacteria throughout their blood stream and tissues. Widespread infection was most likely via invasion through the skin ulcers.
                              Why are there sores on the body?
                              Skin sores on the seals and walruses are due to inflammation of the small skin blood vessels. This results in an “infarct” or blockage of blood flow to the overlying skin that the vessels normally support which results in the skin dying. After a time, this dead skin sloughs and leaves an open bleeding area susceptible to colonization and invasion by bacteria that are in the environment or on the surface of normal intact skin. Some seals also have heavy fungal and bacterial colonization in these areas.

                              Why did ice seals not grow their hair/fur last summer? Will their hair/fur grow back?

                              The fact that four different species of ice-associated seals had hair loss suggests a common cause to this condition that has yet to be determined. Examined hair follicles exhibit degenerative changes, with mostly inactive follicles, suggesting that old hair will not be replaced with new hair until a new normal cycle of hair growth occurs. There was no scarring of the tissue in these areas, so seals should be able to regrow hair in the next molt cycle.
                              Are there any clinical data to suggest this illness can be transmitted to people?
                              Currently there is no evidence that people can be affected by this disease through handling and or consumption of traditionally prepared foods from seals and walruses. However, it is strongly recommended that Alaska Native coastal communities continue to rely on their customary and traditional practices as well as seek advice by community elders to aid in the decision process as to whether a harvested ice seal or walrus is fit for human consumption.
                              What, if anything, has been ruled out as a cause?
                              Testing has ruled out a number of bacteria and viruses known to affect marine mammals, including phocine distemper virus, influenza virus, leptospirosis, calicivirus, orthopoxvirus, and poxvirus. Exotic or foreign animal diseases and some domestic animal pathogens that produce lesions similar to those observed in ringed seals and walruses, were tested and found negative include foot and mouth disease, vesicular exanthema of swine, select picornaviruses, and Rickettsial agents. Many bacteria have been isolated from animals that were in the late stages of the disease, but these are generally organisms that reside on skin and in the gastrointestinal tract of both humans and animals and are generally not
                              considered serious pathogens. Consuming an animal that has blood poisoning with these microbes however, could produce illness, such as food poisoning.
                              The standard suite of biotoxins known to affect marine mammals in Alaska have also tested and proved negative. These algal toxins include domoic acid and saxitoxin (also known as PSP or paralytic shellfish poisoning).
                              What, if anything, is suspected as a cause?
                              To determine if there may be a novel virus affecting ice seals and walruses in this UME, more advanced molecular testing of sampled tissues has been undertaken and is currently underway at Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health, a preeminent pathogen discovery laboratory, that has been involved from the early stages of this investigation.
                              Until a thorough understanding of the disease is reached, no environmental factor or disease can be ruled out as a cause.
                              Body condition: Why do some of the seals look so fat? Why are others so thin?
                              Nutritional status provides some insight into how long a particular disease process may have occurred. In animals with more blubber, death may have occurred more acutely, whereas, those individuals that are thin, likely had a more long-term disease course. Secondary pneumonia and an inability to dive and successfully forage for prey, secondary infections, poor or no appetite, lack of available prey, and other processes may contribute to loss of condition. This most likely depends on whether these are type 1 or type 2 cases. We suspect that thin animals are in the terminal stage of type 2 and are either unable, or unwilling, to feed normally due to their overall state of health.

                              What are the clinical international results from Canada, Russia, and/or Japan? Do we know? How many infected seals (by species, region, etc) and walruses have been reported in these countries and/or how many have been tested?
                              A few seals from Canada appear to be in the late stages of this disease, or a clinically related disease, and often have a systemic illness due to Streptococcus spp. Comparison of bacterial isolates from seals in Alaska and Canada is underway to better define the pathologic similarities of this disorder. Collaborative efforts are underway with Russian Native hunters and biologists to continue monitoring for the specific sickness among ice seals and walruses throughout Chukotka. Biologists stationed at walrus haulouts have reported that the condition of unusual skin lesions is most common in younger age classes of animals. Real time information sharing on diagnostic results and disease dynamics is ongoing with Russia and Japan. Due to the remoteness of Russian haul out sites and associated sample transport logistics, no necropsies of Russian walruses or ice seals have occurred.
                              From the recent seals reported or sent in, are the animals healing, getting sicker, and/or is there a “new” round of diseased seals this spring?
                              Cases are still being assessed and categorized. From initial public reports, it appears that most animals from 2012 are most likely survivors, and a smaller group appears to be “new” cases.
                              What kind of collaboration is occurring with other countries?
                              The investigation includes a transboundary working group which communicates about cases, monitoring, and testing with the Canadian, Russian, and European circumpolar members. A monitoring program has been established with Chukotkan hunters and biologists to monitor Russian walrus haulouts. This summer and fall systematic and comparable information in Alaska and Russia on mortality levels at coastal walrus haulouts is being collected. In Alaska, monitoring will include haulouts at Cape Pierce, Cape Newenham, Hagemeister Island, and Round Island in Bristol Bay as well as further north at Point Lay. Russian collaborators have agreed to gather the information from coastal haulouts in Chukotka.
                              “‘i love myself.’
                              the
                              quietest.
                              simplest.
                              most
                              powerful.
                              revolution
                              ever.” ---- nayyirah waheed

                              Avatar: Franz Marc, Liegender Hund im Schnee 1911 (My posts are not intended as advice or professional assessments of any kind.)

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