Public health officials have been trying to determine the cause of a deadly outbreak in ringed seals that now includes the local walrus population. NOAA declared an unusual mortality event and researchers have been scrambling to find the cause. Researchers have now ruled out a virus, their initial suspect. They have moved on to testing for radiation exposure.
Local officials said the radiation levels in the water near the coast of Alaska were fairly low but seals could have encountered a concentration in the currents elsewhere in their migration patterns.
Their migration map shows them well into Russian waters. Radiation was found off the Kamchatka Peninsula one month after the start of the Fukushima disaster. This is within the migration pattern of the Alaska ringed seal. The Kamchatka Peninsula faces the Bearing Sea, part of the seals migration range. The chance of the Alaska seals being in areas of known sea contamination are possible.
They could also have been exposed if they consumed contaminated fish species. Ringed seals eat a wide variety of fish and invertebrates. Depending on the migration patterns of these food sources the seals could have encountered highly contaminated food species as the seals migration patterns and those of food species overlap.
Other factors that could add to the damage of the seal population are some of the additives pumped into the reactors in large amounts. Hydrazine was pumped into unit 3 and 4 in considerable amounts early on in the disaster. Hydrazine has also been used again more recently in some of the reactors. It is used as a corrosion inhibitor and to absorb iodine – 131. Boron was also added in considerable amounts to dampen fission. Boron can drastically change PH, boric acid is an oxidation product of boron. Hydrazine is extremely toxic to sea mammals.
There are enough mechanisms for exposure to raise concerns. The Institute of Marine Sciences at University of Alaska Fairbanks is in the process of testing some seal tissue samples for radiation. This test they feel will give them a clear answer if radiation exposure is involved.
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