For months now, U.S. scientists have been worried about consequences stateside of the meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan in March. Now, scientists in Alaska say local ringed seals could be feeling the effects of radiation.
The D.C.-based Environment News Service reports that more than 60 seals have died and 75 seals fallen sick from a mysterious disease since mid-July. While biologist initially believed the seals were suffering from a virus, they are now testing to see if radiation is the culprit.
“Marked by bleeding lesions on the hind flippers, irritated skin around the nose and eyes and patchy hair loss on the animals’ fur coats,” the disease has caused many ringed seals to wash up on the Alaska shoreline, Reuters reports. It’s a species that rarely is seen ashore.
John Kelley, professor emeritus at the Institute of Marine Science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, told Reuters they are testing the seals for radiation because of concern expressed by members of local communities.
Water tests so far, however, have not picked up any evidence of elevated radiation in U.S. Pacific waters.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has declared the seals’ deaths an “unusual mortality event” (UME). Mother Jones Magazine reports that a UME usually triggers a scientific investigation and that at least two of the three recent marine UMEs have had implications for human health.
While polar bears are the main predators of seals, the bears are showing no signs of the mysterious disease.
Test results for the ringed seals will be available in a few weeks, according to the Global Post.