Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Deaths of ringed seals in Alaska | Fukushima | Fish Eaters | Nanuuq's Prey: Ice Seals

updates posted at what next: UPDATE re: Deaths of ringed seals in Alaska


December 20, 2011
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service

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...

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...

Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service


NOAA’s Alaska regional fisheries website has more in-depth information about this disease outbreak in ringed seals and walruses at alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/protectedresources/seals/ice/diseased/. 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.

more below regarding radiation testing

Are seal deaths a result of Fukushima nuclear catastrophe radiation poisoning? - they could be.

it appears possible that these seals may have been poisoned outright, or perhaps exposure to radioactive pollution is the cause of secondary infections or other complications...
more later

my heart sunk when i saw the seal photos, like it hadn't since i watched the second reactor explosion... visions of dying sea life back then, and now here it is?

see whats up: SECOND Fukushima Explosion: Japan Nuclear Plant Rocked By Hydrogen Explosion

Einstein said
"The splitting of the atom
changed everything
save man's mode of thinking;
thus we drift towards
unparalleled catastrophe."


Is radiation causing Arctic Alaska ringed-seal deaths?

Alaska Dispatch | Alex DeMarban | Dec 23, 2011 — The University of Alaska Fairbanks' Institute of Marine Sciences is launching an investigation into whether radiation, including possibly from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power-plant disaster in Japan, has harmed or killed more than 100 ringed seals off Alaska's coasts...

The work so far has yielded at least one important clue: "Tests indicate a virus is not the cause," said a recent press release from NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service...

John Kelley, with the Institute of Marine Sciences at UAF, said he's just received a large batch of tissue from afflicted ringed seals and will soon begin the university's hunt for radiation as a possible cause...

SFOS tests ringed seals for Fukushima radiation

January 1, 2012 | Fairbanks, Alaska — With more than 135 dead and diseased ringed seals found off the Alaskan coast since July 2011, SFOS Professor Emeritus Dr. John Kelley is leading efforts to test ringed seals for radiation stemming from the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan.

i have requested updates from the staff of the marine mammals division

UPDATE Feb 17, from NOAA's NMFS:
see > whats up: update on diseased seals: Preliminary Assessment of Radionuclide Exposure
"At this point, scientists do not believe that radiation is a primary factor in this UME or that radiation is causing the symptoms and deaths in pinnipeds."

UPDATE Feb 8, from NOAA's NMFS:

"Thank you for your interest in this topic. As you know, NOAA is working collaboratively with many marine mammal experts throughout Alaska and the United States, as well as with a number of international scientists on this Unusual Mortality Event. We just posted an update at our website for this disease: http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/protectedresources/seals/ice/diseased/default.htm

"Our team continues to test for a wide variety of possible causes and contributing factors such as bacterial, viral, fungal or toxic agents. In response to your question about possible link to the Fukushima nuclear event, our scientists believe this is highly unlikely. However, we do have scientists at two separate labs analyzing tissue samples for the possibility of radiation exposure. This is a rather complicated process, which includes drying the tissue samples by a particular method before radiation testing can be conducted--which explains the length of time involved in conducting these tests." - Public Affairs Officer, NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, Alaska Region - - ( thank you! )

UPDATE Jan 20: so far it appears that the NOAA press release is still current with no new info available regarding the cause of the disease - radiation testing is underway. i have received the following via email:

"The NOAA press releases are the most recent information on the diseased seals. News articles also reported on lack of a Fukushima signal in air filter surveys. WE have some tissue for analysis of radioactivity, but those results will not be available for at least a couple of months."

- and -
"...have just returned from the Alaska Marine Science Symposium in Anchorage and there were a number of presentations on the topic of the seal disease outbreak in the Arctic. It appears that the number of cases is going down, but it is unclear if this is due to a decrease in the actual disease outbreak or a lack of harvest during the winter months by subsistence hunters. Thus far all tests have been negative, so a cause has not yet been established. There a several analyses still pending.
"If you are interested in updates, NOAA has a listserve right now where information on the disease outbreak is being distributed.
"Send a blank email to:
(note: there is an online archive of list messages with access for subscribers)

> updates posted at what next: UPDATE re: Deaths of ringed seals in Alaska

Fish Eaters Threatened by Fukushima Radiation

Evidence has emerged that the impacts of the disaster on the Pacific Ocean are worse than expected.

Since a tsunami and earthquake destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant last March, radioactive cesium has consistently been found in 60 to 80 per cent of Japanese fishing catches each month, as tested by Japan's Fisheries Agency.

Overall, one in five of the 1,100 catches tested in November exceeded the new ceiling of 100 becquerels per kilogram. (Canada's ceiling for radiation in food is much higher: 1,000 becquerels per kilogram.)

"I would probably be hesitant to eat a lot of those fish," said Nicholas Fisher, a marine sciences professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Cesium was especially prevalent in certain of the species:

• 73 per cent of mackerel tested

• 91 per cent of the halibut

• 92 per cent of the sardines

• 93 per cent of the tuna and eel

• 94 per cent of the cod and anchovies

• 100 per cent of the carp, seaweed, shark and monkfish

Some of the fish were caught in Japanese coastal waters. Other catches were made hundreds of kilometres away in the open ocean.

There, the fish also can be caught by fishers from dozens of other nations who fish in the waters of the Pacific.

Yet, Japan is the only country that appears to be systematically testing fish for radiation and publicly reporting the results. - The Vancouver Sun (reproduced on ReaderSupportedNews) *

Beyond Nuclear note: Although this story is about seafood concerns in Canada, it is worth noting that the US allowable contamination level is greater that both Japan and Canada, and that the US imports seafood and other foodstuffs from Japan. The Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA) of the United States is allowing a contamination level of 1200 Bq/kg of just Cesium 134 and Cesium 137 to be present in food imports from Japan that are not banned outright. Foods banned outright seem mainly limited to only select items grown in the localized areas of contamination within Japan.

Beyond Nuclear

* Canada: Fish Eaters Threatened by Fukushima Radiation


seal disease alert - fliers maps news

NOAA’s Alaska regional fisheries page on diseased seals and walruses

arctic flier, august 2011 -

bering strait flier, november 2011 -

map, november 2011 -

Disease Fact Sheets:
Nov. 22 | Nov. 10

3 dead killer whales... related? - other reports?

News Release: Nushagak River Killer Whales Updates
NOAA Fisheries News Releases
Sunday, October 16, 8:45 a.m.

NOAA has received word that the third of three killer whales that had spent at least three weeks in the Nushagak River has been found dead. The carcass of the juvenile killer whale was found Friday near Grass Island, an island in the Nushagak River across from Dillingham in an area that is tidally influenced. Based on the description of the location where the animal was found by a local resident, biologists believe the juvenile whale would've had to have swum there, rather than having been carried there by the tide.
i have requested updates from NOAA's Nation Marine Fisheries Service PR office

Killer whale that died in Nushagak River was pregnant | Anchorage Daily News - The News Tribune

Published: 10/12/11 11:33 pm | Updated: 10/16/11

Veterinarians said Wednesday that a killer whale that baffled biologists after swimming up a river in Alaska and remaining in the fresh water for weeks until its death had been pregnant.

A necropsy revealed that the whale was carrying a late-term fetus, veterinarians said. That could indicate that the animal was having pregnancy complications and "that may have been a factor in the whale dying," said Julie Speegle, spokeswoman for NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region...

Federal biologists have said the rare sighting represented an unprecedented journey into fresh water for the killer whales in Alaska.

The necropsy showed no evidence that the whale died because of human interaction, such as a boat strike or entanglement in fishing gear, said Judy St. Leger, director of pathology and research at SeaWorld who is a member of the necropsy team.

The veterinarians took samples from the whale carcass for tests and hope to answer some basic questions about its age, health and pod identity. A full report was expected to take a month or two to complete...

Feb 8 update: "We have received the report. No cause of death is suggested, although human interaction has been ruled out. Histological results are still pending."

Nanuuq's Prey: Ice Seals

Ringed Seals, Ringed Seal Pictures, Ringed Seal Facts - National Geographic

Carefully scanning the ice for lurking polar bears, a ringed seal surfaces to catch a breath of air. Like most Arctic animals today, however, this seal's biggest threat is not a predator but global warming.- Photograph by Paul Nicklen

The most common and widely distributed seals in the Arctic, ringed seals make their home throughout the Northern Hemisphere’s circumpolar oceans, where they feed on polar and arctic cod and a variety of planktonic crustaceans. Different populations have different names and some variation in behavior and appearance. But ringed seals—the smallest seal species—get their name from the light-colored circular patterns that appear on their darker gray backs. Some of these markings are so dense, in fact, that they take on the look of splattered paint...

Nanuuq's Prey: Ice Seals

Seals that hang out year-round near sea ice are called ice seals. In Alaska, people as well as nanuuq rely on four species of ice seals for food. Because seals are so important to both nanuuq as their main prey and to people for food and clothing, the ANC has developed an Ice Seal Committee to help manage the four species. Alaska Natives are seeking to strengthen partnerships with the National Marine Fisheries Service to co-manage ice seals through research and education. The Committee also builds partnerships with other organizations and local governments to help conserve ice seals. The structure of the Ice Seal Committee is made up of representatives from five different regions that span the coast of Alaska starting at Bristol Bay then northward to the Canadian border (regions with polar sea ice).

Alaska Nanuuq Commission
"Conserving Nanuuq and
the Arctic Ecosystem for
present and future
generations of Arctic
Alaska Natives"
The Alaska Nanuuq Commission (ANC) was formed in 1994 to represent the villages in North and Northwest Alaska on matters concerning the conservation and sustainable subsistence use of polar bear. The tribal council of each member village has passed a resolution to become a member and to authorize the ANC to represent them on matters concerning polar bear at regional and international levels.

Two Arctic Ice Seals Threatened by Climate Change Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection

ANCHORAGE, Alaska | December 3, 2010 — Responding to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the Obama administration today proposed Endangered Species Act protection for two ice-dependent Arctic seals threatened by climate change. The bearded seal and ringed seal will be the first Alaskan species since the polar bear to be protected primarily due to threats from climate change.

“Global warming is rapidly robbing these Arctic seals of the ice they need to survive,” said Rebecca Noblin, the Center’s Alaska director. “With this decision, the Obama administration is improving the odds for these two struggling species of ice-dependent seals. The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, so no animal reliant on Arctic sea ice is safe.”

The ringed seal, the primary food for polar bears, excavates snow caves on top of the sea ice to create protected shelters for nursing pups. As the Arctic warms, the sea ice is breaking up earlier, and rain is falling on snow, causing snow caves to collapse and leading to the deaths of pups...

Radiation Poisoning? “Scientists Fear Entire Ocean Affected”
Pakalert Press | January 6, 2012

note: these quotes are from at least as far back as October

...The Northwest Arctic Borough has also posted a notice on its website warning people to watch for sick seals in Northwest Alaska villages. Enoch Shiedt, natural resource coordinator for the Maniilaq Association in Kotzebue, said he’s received a few reports of sluggish seals hauled out on beaches this summer. But he hasn’t been able to confirm the sightings. One sighting occurred on the Kotzebue waterfront several weeks ago, but by the time he arrived, the seal had been rolled back into the water and was gone. He’s concerned the illness will spread up the food chain, affecting other animals and hunters near Kotzebue Sound.

“I’m scared they might pass it on one way or another and the whole ocean could be affected,” Shiedt said. Folks in the Barrow region also are worried. Many of the Slope’s Inupiat residents are about to begin hunting for seals, and some are wondering if they are safe to eat, Herreman said. The wildlife department has posted fliers around the borough — titled Natchiq On Our Beach. Natchiq means ringed seal in the Inupiaq language. The borough has also gone on the radio, asking villagers to report sightings of marine mammals that appear to be weak. The wildlife department is advising hunters to notify it of any sick seals they harvest and, if they choose to eat them, to cook the meat thoroughly. The animals don’t appear to be ailing from stress-related causes, something people might suspect because climate change has reduced the ice habitat that ringed seals normally prefer, Herreman said. Seals also don’t appear to be suffering from a lack of food. “They are all showing classic symptoms of disease,” he said.

The sickest ones don’t move much on the beaches and they have blisters or wounds that bleed easily, including around the nose, eyes and especially the rear flippers. Others have lost much of their hair. “They’re not deathly skinny. It’s not like they’re dying from malnutrition. But they’re not in great body condition,” he said. The reports haven’t let up. “I just went out this morning and I saw a seal that died last night,” Herreman said Wednesday afternoon. “It was frozen and the seagulls had gotten to it,” he said. Weakened seals are susceptible to predator attacks. Large numbers of polar bears have been gathering at Kaktovik, east of Barrow near the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and some have been eating hauled-out ringed seals there, he said. Some sick seals have survived weeks with the illness. Scientists also don’t know how pervasive the illness is, since even healthy ringed seals are difficult to track and census. Ringed seal numbers aren’t well documented. A study done in the 1980s estimated about 250,000 ringed seals hauled out on northern Alaska’s shore-fast ice during the spring. Many more are thought to live farther out in the pack ice. But those estimates are very rough, Herreman cautioned. The worldwide population has been estimated at 4-6 million, he said.

updates posted at what next: UPDATE re: Deaths of ringed seals in Alaska & whats up: update on diseased seals: Preliminary Assessment of Radionuclide Exposure

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