Rapidly transforming climate and melting sea ice is affecting the life of marine mammals. A fatal virus is affecting seals and maybe spreading faster due to the loss of Arctic sea ice from rising temperatures. Scientists have found Phocine distemper virus (PDV), liable for the death of thousands of European harbor seals in 2002. After two years, they have found the virus in northern sea otters in Alaska. The presence of the virus in that region has raised a question, how the virus reached there?
A team of researchers from the University of California, Davis, has led the study published on Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports. As per the 15-year study, the revolutionary recasting of sea ice might have paved the way for the contact between seals in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions that were not possible formerly. Dr. Tracey Goldstein, an associate director of the One Health Institute at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, is the corresponding author of the study. She said the loss of sea ice is leading marine animals to seek and forage in new habitats and erasing that physical barrier. Even more, melting ice is granting new pathways for them to move.
Dr. Tracey noted as animals move ahead and come in contact with other species, they carry chances to introduce and transfer new infectious diseases, with likely distressing impacts. During the analysis, the scientists have analyzed marine animals for disclosure to the virus from 2001 – 2016. The effort included sampled animals, including ice-associated seals, northern fur seals, Steller sea lions, and North Atlantic to North Pacific oceans. Scientists have discovered infection and exposure to PDV since 2003. Even more, they have located another rise in 2009, which overlapped with a reduction in Arctic sea ice extent. The study underscores the need to understand PDV transmission and the possibility for epidemics in sensitive species within this rapidly transforming climate.