(U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service press release, 6 April 2012) -- ANCHORAGE — In the past two weeks, 9 polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea region near Barrow were observed with alopecia, or loss of fur, and other skin lesions. The animals were otherwise healthy in appearance and behavior. The cause and significance of the observed lesions are unknown. Alopecia has been reported in both wild and captive animals in the past. U.S. Geological Survey scientists have collected blood and tissues samples from afflicted polar bears to investigate the cause of the symptoms and determine whether there is any relationship between the symptoms observed in polar bears and those reported for arctic pinnipeds from the same geographical region earlier this year. Research scientists with the USGS made the observations at the start of their 2012 field-work season. USGS observes polar bears annually in the southern Beaufort Sea region as part of a long-term research program. This bear population ranges from Barrow in Alaska east to the Tuktoyuktuk region of Canada. Observations last summer of unusual numbers of ringed seals hauled out on beaches along the Arctic coast of Alaska, and later on, of dead and dying seals with hair loss and skin sores, led to declaration of an Unusual Mortality Event by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on December 20, 2011. Based on observations of Pacific walruses with similar skin lesions at a coastal haulout in the same region during fall, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service joined the UME investigation. Most walruses exhibiting skin lesions appeared to be otherwise healthy, and whether the symptoms observed in the seals and walruses are related is unknown. Since the initial reports from northern Alaska, ice seals with similar symptoms have also been reported in adjacent regions of Canada and Russia and from the Bering Strait region. Despite extensive testing for a wide variety of well known infectious agents, the cause(s) of the observed condition in walruses and ice seals remains unknown. 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.
Posted 6 April 2012; 11:11:05 PM. Permalink
(Doug O'Harra/Alaska Dispatch, 4 April 2012) -- After growing to one of the biggest polar packs seen during the past decade, sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean has officially maxed out for the winter and begun its slow, seasonal melt into another summer of retreat. “Arctic sea ice reached its annual maximum extent on March 18, after reaching an initial peak early in the month and declining briefly,” according to the newest analysis posted by the National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC). “Ice extent for the month as a whole was higher than in recent years, but still below average.” Driven by record-breaking floes in Alaska’s Bering Sea, and above average ice cover in Baffin Bay between Greenland and Canada, the ice cap averaged about 5.87 million square miles last month — the greatest March ice cover seen since 2008. The total was tempered by below-average ice cover in the Barents and Kara seas north of Europe and Russia (though the Kara rebounded somewhat in March), where temperatures remained 7 to 11 degrees F above normal. Only eight seasons have produced smaller March ice footprints in the Arctic during the 34 years of satellite coverage. [Follow title link to see] a chart making comparisons to several of those years, and another image showing the current status updated every day.
Posted 6 April 2012; 1:42:23 PM. Permalink