Loss of Ice Opens Pathways for Disease Transmission Among Sea Lions, Ice Seals, Sea Otters and Others
Scientists have linked the decline in Arctic sea ice to the emergence of a deadly virus that could threaten marine mammals in the North Pacific, according to a study from the University of California, Davis.
Phocine distemper virus, or PDV, a pathogen responsible for killing thousands of European harbor seals in the North Atlantic in 2002, was identified in northern sea otters in Alaska in 2004, raising questions about when and how the virus reached them.
The 15-year study, published today in the journal Scientific Reports, highlights how the radical reshaping of historic sea ice may have opened pathways for contact between Arctic and sub-Arctic seals that was previously impossible. This allowed for the virus’ introduction into the Northern Pacific Ocean.
“The loss of sea ice is leading marine wildlife to seek and forage in new habitats and removing that physical barrier, allowing for new pathways for them to move,” said corresponding author Tracey Goldstein, associate director of the One Health Institute at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “As animals move and come in contact with other species, they carry opportunities to introduce and transmit new infectious disease, with potentially devastating impacts.”
As ice melts, a virus on the move