Melting sea ice opens passage for disease

World News

(KTUU)  Melting sea ice on its own presents plenty of challenges for Arctic marine mammals, from loss of habitat, to changing predator prey dynamics.

Now there’s a new challenge.

Biologists recently discovered a link between believe sea ice loss and the spread of disease between previously isolated populations.

Phocine Distemper Virus is known for causing mass mortality in seals in the Atlantic and was discovered in northern sea otters in Alaska in 2004.

“We were collecting sea otter carcasses across the state just to look at patterns of mortality,” said Verena Gill, a biologist with NOAA Fisheries. Gill was working for US Fish and Wildlife Service at the time. “While we were investigating sea otter deaths, we discovered that they had been exposed to phocine distemper, and that sort of set off a whole question of how do sea otters contract this phocine distemper, which previously had only been seen in the Atlantic.”

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