KNOM, May 14, 2014: Mysterious illness that’s been plaguing seals [first hit] the Bering Strait and the North Slope starting in the summer of 2011. Up to 300 seals were found suffering from hair loss, skin sores, and unusually lethargic behavior. Dozens of walruses were also found with similar sores [causing] marine mammal regulators to declare an Unusual Mortality Event [...] walrus have been taken off the UME [...] Seals [are still] displaying hair loss [...] University of Alaska Fairbanks have begun testing infected seal carcasses for [Fukushima] radiation [...] Results should be released in July.
Gay Sheffield, University of Alaska Fairbanks: The lack of answers is worrying. “This has been a big food security, public health concern.”
NOAA (pdf), May 12, 2014: UME will remain open for ice seals (ringed seals, ribbon seals, bearded seals, spotted seals) — based on continued reports of [...] disease symptoms
Alaska Dispatch, May 13, 2014: An investigation into a mysterious disease that caused skin lesions and hair loss among Alaska and Russian walruses has been closed without identifying the root cause [...] The potential causes looked into [...] infections and endocrine disruptions. Also investigated was the possibility of contamination from the Fukushima nuclear plant [...] A preliminary investigation in 2012 concluded that radioactive contamination was not the likely cause. Investigators are now looking at the possibility of multiple causes [according to NOAA,] “the theory is that a number of factors contributed to the illness.”
Unusual Mortality Event, NOAA (pdf): [There's] 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. […] Almost all the seals necropsied had some form of hepatitis or inflammation of the liver. [...] lymph nodes and the thymus have also shown consistent changes [...] enlarged lymph nodes [and] very reduced thymus glands in many of the young animals [that could] suggest widespread compromised immune systems [...] The fact that four different species of ice-associated seals had hair loss suggests a common cause [...] hair follicles exhibit degenerative changes, with mostly inactive follicles […] results from Canada, Russia, and/or Japan? […] Real time information sharing on diagnostic results and disease dynamics is ongoing with Russia and Japan. […]
-  Liver may crumble easily and discharge blood
-  The heart is frequently enlarged and pale […] granular, dry, and soft/decaying tissue
-  Tissues may be congested, and blubber underneath lesions may be fluid-filled or have focal areas of inflammation
-  Lymph nodes are often enlarged and swollen with an excessive accumulation of fluid. Lymph nodes may also look yellow and/or mottled. This shows the typical look of the lungs, which is very consistent between cases.
Published: May 16th, 2014 at 10:03 am ET