Scientists find connection between H5N1, mysterious seal deaths in Maine

The US Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Inspection Service's National Veterinary Services Laboratories found that four seals tested positive for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1.

A seal pup (photo credit: AP)
A seal pup
(photo credit: AP)

Seals in Maine have died after being stranded on the shore at a rate three times higher than normal for the time of year, NOAA Fisheries found.

The US Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Inspection Service's National Veterinary Services Laboratories found that four seals tested positive for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1.

According to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network (MMoME) and NOAA Fisheries, researchers sought to investigate the abnormal seal mortality rates, accounting for environmental factors, common causes of previous stranding events and human activities, and gathered information regarding the causes of illness and death among Maine seals.

2018 seal mortality event

According to NOAA Fisheries, similar mortality events among seals in Maine have occurred previously.

In 2018, for instance, a seal mortality event occurred as a result of phocine distemper virus.

A seal sits on a rock in front of the ''Ile aux moutons'' island in front of Loctudy, Brittany (credit: REUTERS)A seal sits on a rock in front of the ''Ile aux moutons'' island in front of Loctudy, Brittany (credit: REUTERS)

Response measures

NOAA Fisheries added that it has been working on measures to respond to the current crisis in conjunction with MMoME, Atlantic Marine Conservation Society and state and federal agencies.

"The response team is currently meeting on a daily basis to share information, support response logistics, and develop accurate public communications."

NOAA Fisheries

"The response team is currently meeting on a daily basis to share information, support response logistics, and develop accurate public communications," NOAA Fisheries stated on its website.

Note for people in the area

NOAA fisheries noted that anyone who comes across an injured or sick seal should call the Maine Marine Animal Reporting Hotline at (800) 532-9551 and that people who wish to report seal stranding south of Maine should call the NOAA Fisheries Stranding Hotline at (866) 755-6622. NOAA Fisheries added that people should avoid touching seals and should maintain at least 150 feet of distance from them, though the risk to human health is low.