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Pacific Walrus Removed from Unusual Mortality Event

Walrus and calf. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

Walrus and calf. Photo courtesy of NOAA.


Pacific Walrus are officially off the hook when it comes to a mysterious illness that’s been plaguing seals and walrus in the region.

An unknown disease swept through seal and walrus populations along 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.

A handful of seals also died, causing marine mammal regulators to declare an unusual mortality event (UME) to monitor the disease. But with only three reports of sick walrus in the last year, walrus have been taken off the UME watch list.

Vera Metcalf is the Director of the Eskimo Walrus Commission at Kawerak. Referencing the delisting of walrus, Metcalf said, “I think the move is the right direction. I know that our coastal communities and subsistence hunters have been observing changes in the environment, but fortunately, they’ve been harvesting very close to healthy walruses.”

No new sick seals have been reported since 2012, but Julie Speegle with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association says seals are still being watched.

Speegle said, “The UME is still open for ice seals. We do continue to see what seems to be pretty healthy ice seals, but they seem to be survivors from past illness.”

These survivors are seals displaying hair loss but otherwise healthy behavior and body condition. Four survivors have been reported this year.

Whether the illnesses affecting the seals and walrus were related remains unconfirmed. Both animals remain undiagnosed despite extensive testing for toxic algae, viruses, bacteria, and industrial contaminants.

Gay Sheffield is with the Marine Advisory Program in Nome. She says the lack of answers is worrying

“This has been a big food security, public health concern,” Sheffield said.

Sheffield said seals and walrus are safe to eat at the discretion of customary and traditional practices, and there have been no reports of the infection transferring to humans, dogs, or other animals.

Alaska and eastern Russia share a single population of marine mammals that enter into the others’ waters during certain life stages, making the UME an international concern.

Joel Garlich-Miller is a walrus biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He says the Service has worked closely with its Russian counterparts throughout the event.

With current political tensions between the two countries, he says collaboration continues just with cumbersome red tape.

“We just need to make sure,” Garlich-Miller said, “all these communication lines are reviewed at a State Department level. And once we have the green light on that, we can continue to go about our business.”

Garlich-Miller says maintaining dialogue between the two countries is critical.

“We absolutely need to be closely coordinated with our Russian counterparts,” Garlich-Miller explained, “to track the population status, evaluate threats to habitats, make sure that subsistence harvest levels are appropriately monitored for sustainable harvest. It’s essential for the continued conservation management of the species.”

Investigation into the UME continues. The North Slope Arctic Borough and the University of Alaska Fairbanks have begun testing infected seal carcasses for radiation from the Japanese Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster. Results should be released in July.

Residents who spot sick or unusual wildlife are asked to report their finding to the Marine Advisory Program at 1-855-443-2397 or the Eskimo Walrus Commission at 1-877-277-4392.

13 Responses to “Pacific Walrus Removed from Unusual Mortality Event”

  1. Dee

    It’s not “mysterious” to those who have been following Japan’s nuclear crisis through ENENEWS dot com, where hundreds of intelligent comments, research and studies can see the link between nuclear radiation and the illnesses seen in Pacific sealife.

    Reply
  2. LN

    It seems common sense to common man, it’s only the government and their scientists who are ‘bluffled’
    that is bluffing (that they’re baffled), or totally muffled.

    No evidence of harm is not the same as evidence of no harm – this little trick is easily pulled now that the public is so careless about language and its meaning.

    Reply
    • annebeck58

      “Bluffled”, or, “bluffling”, makes more sense than taking walrus out of this, “mass mortality event”, status.
      I wonder how many died while it was a part of this event? Just because we’ve stopped finidng dead walrus (walri?), doesn’t mean the dead are less dead.
      I suppose the mortality-event is a yearly (monthly?) thing?

      Yeah, doesn’t make a lot of sense if the event was the radioactive spils and blows at Fukushima (repeatedly, too) and there were dead walrus that they can be removed, “from the event”. because they stopped dying/ Besides, it sounds like a lot of them are still sick, and will die from this original event.

      Or, do we not include what happens from an event, after more than a certain or particular amount of time? Is this how they get away with not *somehow* compensating the world for these horrific events?

      Reply
  3. Cheryl A. Dotson

    I agree! I have been following these unusual mortality events and those in the know should just come clean and try to do something instead of ignoring the radioactive elephant in the room!

    Reply
  4. jinglepots

    Good grief! By the time Fukushima accepts blame for this, we will all be like the poor sea life! Evil, pure evil! This is a cover-up that cannot be sustained. Especially when people start to keel over. Examine the documentary: Children of Chernobyl, Youtube. They, too are suffering from enlarged hearts and a host of diseases. Fukushima was a far worse disaster. Mox fuel went up in smoke. Research that. Now, pray. For, only God can put such a genie back in the bottle.

    Reply
  5. ‘Mystery disease’ on Pacific coast of Alaska – Livers ‘crumble’… Hearts enlarged, pale… Yellow lymph nodes… Blood-filled lungs (PHOTOS) – Testing carcasses for Fukushima radioactivity

    […] 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. […]

    Reply
  6. annebeck58

    So, they have NO CLUE as to what this desease is or how it originated (hello, radiation illness/ poisoning), yet they are willing to bet your life on seal and/or walrus being SAFE TO EAT?
    Seriously?

    I think I’ll wait til they feed it to themselves and their children before I have a taste. Then again, I am not willing to eat anything out of any ocean, any more. Been sick enough without going that far.

    Reply
  7. Wildlife News Roundup (May 10-16, 2014) | The Wildlife Society News

    […] Pacific Walrus Removed From Unusual Mortality Event (KNOM-FM) Pacific walrus are officially off the hook when it comes to a mysterious illness that’s been plaguing seals and walrus in the region. An unknown disease swept through seal and walrus populations along 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. More […]

    Reply
  8. What’s the Fuss? It’s Just a Walrus…and a Polar Bear, should we care? | Dark Matters a Lot

    […] 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. […]

    Reply

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