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Melting Arctic Sea Ice Spreading Deadly Virus in Marine Animals, Say Scientists

Representative image. (Reuters/Kathryn Hansen/NASA)

Representative image. (Reuters/Kathryn Hansen/NASA)

According to the study published in Science Daily, while Phocine distemper virus or PDV is common in the northern Atlantic ocean for decades, the melting of the Arctic sea ice has made it appear among mammals in the northern Pacific ocean as well.

A new study now suggests that climate change is perhaps to blame for the surge in a deadly virus among otters, seals and sea lions around the Arctic sea.

According to the study published in Science Daily and cited by the Independent, while Phocine distemper virus or PDV is common in the northern Atlantic ocean for decades, the melting of the Arctic sea ice has made it appear among mammals in the northern Pacific ocean as well.

Rising global temperatures, a direct effect of climate change, now means that more and more sea ice is melting around the Arctic, opening up new channels of communication and sea lanes which have been hitherto inaccessible for thousands of years.

The Independent article cited the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which said that between 1979 and 2018, the Arctic sea ice melted on an average 12.8 per cent each decade or every 10 years.

The IPCC report, published in September said that the sea ice changes in September were likely unprecedented for at least 1,000 years.

They further added that a severe surge in PDV in 2003 and 2004 among marine mammals in the northern Pacific was connected to a record melting of ice in August 2002.

The study further found that about 30 percent of Stellar sea lions in the northern Pacific Ocean were infected with the disease. Following the widespread melting of ice in 2008, PDV again reached its peak in 2009.

Speaking to BBC, study co-author Dr Tracey Goldstein said: “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.”

“As animals move and come in contact with other species, they carry opportunities to introduce and transmit new infectious disease, with potentially devastating impacts,” Goldstein further added.

According to the report, symptoms of PDV include difficulty in breathing, fevers and attacks on the nervous system. First identified in the late 1980s, it had killed 18,000 harbour seals in the North and Baltic Seas.