Avian Flu Cause Of Death For Alaska Polar Bear

A polar bear’s death has been attributed to bird flu. (USFWS)

The Alaska Beacon reports that bird flu was the listed as the cause of death for a polar bear in Alaska. Here’s more:

The polar bear was found dead in October near Utqiagvik, the nation’s northernmost community, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation reported.

The discovery of the virus in the animal’s body tissue, a process that required sampling and study by the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management and other agencies, confirmed earlier this month that highly pathogenic avian influenza was the cause of death, said Dr. Bob Gerlach, Alaska’s state veterinarian.

“This is the first polar bear case reported, for anywhere,” Gerlach said. As such, it was reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health and has gotten attention in other Arctic nations that have polar bears, he said.

This was also the first Endangered Species Act-listed animal in Alaska known to fall victim to the disease. Polar bears, dependent on sea ice that is diminishing because of climate change, were listed as threatenedin 2008.

While polar bears normally eat seals they hunt from the sea ice, it appears likely that this bear was scavenging on dead birds and ingested the influenza virus that way, Gerlach said. Numerous birds on the North Slope of various species have died from this avian influenza, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Avian flu concerns have grown over recent years, including multiple black and brown bears being infected in Alaska, but as this report states, this is the first known polar bear to die of the virus.