WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- A new study has revealed that a deadly virus known to affect marine mammal species is connected with ice melt occurring in the Arctic.
- Based on 15 years of data that studied thousands of marine mammal species in various locations, scientists found out that widespread outbreaks followed after occurrences of sea ice melt.
- The virus is possibly spread by animals finding new habitats and coming in contact with new species.
Scientists have discovered a link between a deadly disease affecting Arctic marine mammals and melting sea ice possibly caused by climate change.
For decades, Phocine distemper virus (PDV) has been known to infect seal populations leading to mass mortality events involving thousands of animals since 1988. Researchers believed melting ice could be the culprit after similar outbreaks were reported in otters, seals and sea lions in the northern Pacific Oceans.
In the study, 15 years of data following 2,500 marine mammals in various locations via satellite were assessed to determine if PDV upticks coincided with diminishing sea ice. The researchers also examined Arctic sea ice measurements within the same period along with blood and nasal samples from 165 dead ice-connected animals.
One case revealed that after vast amounts of melted sea ice occurred in August 2002, more than 30% of North Pacific Steller sea lions tested positive for PDV between 2003 and 2004.
Study author Dr. Tracey Goldstein told BBC News that the decline of sea ice has resulted in marine wildlife seeking new habitats, breaking pathways to allow them to move.
“As animals move and come in contact with other species, they carry opportunities to introduce and transmit new infectious disease, with potentially devastating impacts,” Dr. Goldstein added.
A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that the planet has reached a critical point where severe effects of climate change can no longer be circumvented. As a result of heat-trapping pollution from human activities, ice and mountain glaciers all over the world, including Greenland and Antarctica continue to melt, endangering coastal populations, fish supplies and endangered species.
“These sea ice changes in September are likely unprecedented for at least 1,000 years,” wrote the IPCC. “Arctic sea ice has thinned, concurrent with a transition to younger ice. Between 1979 and 2018, the real proportion of multi-year ice at least five years old has declined by approximately 90%.”
Overall, the study concluded that climate change driven by humans has impacted melting Arctic sea ice making way for PDV to proliferate and infect new marine mammal species, particularly in the northern Russian coast and along the coast of northern Canada.
Scientists contend that as the virus spreads due to the continuing ice melt, the more chances of affecting more marine populations take place.
The new study is published on Wednesday in the journal Nature.
Source: CBS News