Polar bears succumb to mystery disease

Posted on April 7, 2012


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.

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 Centre. He said there had been no deaths among polar bears.

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

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

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


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