Scientists have discovered that the spread of a deadly virus in marine mammals is related to the decrease in sea ice in the Arctic.
The Phocine Distemper Virus (PDV) has been spreading throughout the North Atlantic animals to the North Pacific animals. Scientists state that the spread of pathogens could become more common as ice melts.
Scientists and researchers have found out the likely spread of the PDV infection. In 2002, it caused a huge number of deaths among harbour seals in the North Atlantic; though, they didn’t see the spreading of the virus until 2004 when PDV was discovered in northern sea otters in Alaska.
Samples were collected from 2500 marine animals in a variety of locations over the course of the study. They then correlated with the data on ice sea loss. The record melt in August 2002 was followed by widespread exposure and infection with PDV in Steller sea lions in the North Pacific in 2003 and 2004 with over 30% of animals testing positive. The prevalence of PDV declined and then peaked again in 2009, following from the presence of open-water routes in 2008.
“The loss of sea ice is leading marine wildlife to seek and forage in new habitats and removing that physical barrier, allowing for new pathways for them to move.”Dr Tracey Goldstein, University of California
Melting sea ice has always been a major impact on climate change. Ice has been declining by around 12% per decade between 1979 and 2018 according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“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 Tracey Goldstein, University of California
Scientists and authors warn that this current trend could continue because climate changes will likely increase over time. Opportunities for pathogens to spread will increase which will affect more species.