"Scores of ringed seals along the coast of Alaska have fallen victim to a mysterious disease that has been afflicting the area since July.
Ailing seals have been beaching themselves in increasing numbers on the Arctic coastline. Close to 100 sick seals have been found near the northern city of Barrow, and half have already died. Other communities in the area have also reported sightings of afflicted seals.
Ringed seals live in the water and on floating ice, and they do not generally come ashore.
Biologists suspect a virus may be to blame. Stricken seals suffer from bleeding lesions on hind flippers, loss of fur, and skin irritation around the nose and eyes. But the exact pathogen remains unidentified. Bruce Woods, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told Reuters, “We're kind of in the dark at this point.”
The disease may not stop at ringed seals. Dead walruses and several bearded seals in the area were found with these symptoms as well, though it's unclear if the cases are all linked by the same ailment. Wildlife officials in Russia and Canada have also reported similarly afflicted animals.
Veterinary care for the sick animals is limited by the remote locations they live in. Though scientists are collecting the dead seals for sampling and study, sick seals have to battle the illness on their own. Unfortunately, seals that are weakened are less able to fight off predators, such as polar bears. (...)"