Calgary Herald

Polar bears show signs of mysterious disease


Symptoms of a mysterious disease that has killed scores of seals off Alaska and infected walruses are showing up in polar bears, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said Friday.

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 agency said.

Unlike the sickened seals and walruses, the affected polar bears seem otherwise healthy, said Tony Degange, chief of the biology office for the USGS’S Alaska Science Center. There had been no deaths among polar bears, he said.

The nine affected bears were among the 33 that biologists have sampled while doing routine studies on the Arctic coastline, he said.

Patchy hair loss has been seen before in polar bears, but the high prevalence and the simultaneo­us problems in seal and walrus population­s elevate the concern, he said.

The USGS is coordinati­ng with agencies studying the other animals to investigat­e whether there is a link.

The disease outbreak was first noticed last summer. About 60 seals were found dead and another 75 diseased.

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