Unusual Mortality Event closes for Pacific walruses

Investigation remains open for Alaskan ice seals


by Mike Ford

In September 2011 several walrus carcasses with unusual skin lesions were reported at a walrus haulout site on the Chukchi sea coast of Alaska near the community of Point Lay and an "unusual mortality event" was declared.

An investigative team of national and international specialists from numerous agencies,laboratories, and institutions was formed to investigate the underlying cause(s)

Despite extensive investigations on tissue samples from affected animals, no known or new infectious viral or bacterial agents, harmful algae toxins, or industrial contaminants have been identified that can explain the skin lesions and other symptoms in the walruses.

According to Andrea Medeiros with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service the walrus in question are now safe to harvest. "Through the investigation we were unable to find anything that would be of concern to anybody who was harvesting these animals for food, so from what we can tell they are safe to eat and people should just use their best judgement in evaluating the status of the animals that they are harvesting"

The public is encouraged to report sightings of dead or stranded marine mammals in Alaska to the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at 1-877-925-7773