7 Apr 2012

Mystery disease symptoms found in polar bears

3:18 pm on 7 April 2012

Symptoms of a mysterious disease that has killed scores of seals off Alaska and infected walruses are now showing up in polar bears.

The U.S. Geological Survey says nine polar bears from the Beaufort Sea region near Barrow were found with patchy hair loss and oozing sores on their skin.

Unlike the sickened seals and walruses, the affected polar bears seem otherwise healthy.

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

Chief of the biology office for the USGS's Alaska Science Center Tony DeGange says none of the bears have died.

He says 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.

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

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