Polar Bears Show Signs of Mysterious Illness

ENE News – April 7, 2012

Title: Polar Bears Show Signs of Mysterious Illness
Source: Alaska Public Radio
Author: Annie Feidt
Date: April 6, 2012

Transcript Excerpts 

Bear in photo has hair loss and oozing sores on the left side of its neck. Click to enlarge

Biologists have found Polar Bears in the Beaufort Sea with hair loss and skin lesions. Those are the same symptoms that have sickened ice seals and walruses in the arctic since last summer and led the federal government to declare the incident an unusual mortality event. Scientists are just beginning an investigation into whether polar bears are suffering from the same thing. […]

So far, the field scientists have found hair loss on nine of the 33 bears they’ve captured. The bears have skin lesions on their head, neck and ears. […]

Dozens of seals have died from the disease, but no walrus deaths are attributed to it. Scientists don’t know yet if the walrus and seals are suffering from the same thing. Although the veterinary pathologist who has done most of the necropsies on the animals say the lesions look very similar under the microscope. […]

Tony Degange, with USGS

  • “The first day we observed it was on March 21st and we had three captures and two of them had Alopecia, which is the skin loss and so it was like, ‘oh that’s interesting.’ Then we started picking it up on other animals in later March so it was like, this is more than normal.”
  • “The bears appear to be healthy otherwise. We haven’t seen any dead bears, so its not a mortality event as far as we know. But the fact that its occurring at the same time as this unexplained mortality event with seals certainly raises the interest level.”
  • Out of four polar bears biologists captured yesterday, three had skin lesions and hair loss

Julie Speegle, spokesperson for the National Marine Fisheries Service

  • “We still don’t know what is causing the disease. But our scientists have ruled out a number of bacteria and viruses that are known to affect marine mammals.”
  • “So just a couple more possible causes of illness that we have ruled out and we continue to go forward with studying samples and trying to find out what is causing this disease.”

Listen to the ~4 minute segment here


Symptoms of a mysterious disease that has killed scores of seals off the US state of Alaska and infected walruses are now showing up in polar bears.

Nine polar bears from the Beaufort Sea region near Barrow were found with patchy hair loss and oozing sores on their skin, similar to conditions found in diseased seals and walruses, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said on Friday. […]

Read the USGS report: Polar Bears in Alaska Observed with Patchy Hair Loss and other Skin Lesions (Released: 4/6/2012 3:07:51 PM)

From March 22: “Polar bears, sled dogs and hunters that have eaten affected [seals and walruses] haven’t shown signs of illness, nor have the research teams that have been in close proximity to them” -Raphaela Stimmelmayr, North Slope Borough’s Department of Wildlife Management


  • Reuters: “Preliminary studies [last year of sickened seals and walruses] showed that radiation poisoning is not the cause, temporarily ruling out a theory that the animals were sickened by contamination from the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.”
  • USGS: “Advanced testing techniques for unidentified infectious agents is continuing as well as further testing for potential causes including man-made and natural biotoxins, radiation, contaminants, auto-immune diseases, nutritional, hormonal and environmental factors.”

h/t Anonymous tip

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