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Hundreds of Seals
Killed in Epidemic
The virus that killed thousands of harbor seals in northern Europe several years ago is back, with possibly "devastating consequences," say Dutch and Danish researchers in the 12 July 2002 issue of the journal Science.
In 1988, approximately 18,000 seals died from the phocine distemper virus, their carcasses littering the beaches of the North Sea and neighboring waters. The population recovered, but several new carcasses have now tested positive for the virus, Trine Jensen at the Seal Rehabilitation and Research Center in Pieterburen, Netherlands, and colleagues report.
The epidemic began in May, at the same place it did in 1988, on an island of the east coast of Denmark. It has probably spread to the coast of the Netherlands and Sweden, and killed more than 700 seals thus far, the authors say. They predict that the effect of the epidemic will depend on the seals' overall resistance and specific immunity to the virus. Their tests indicate, however, that at most 20 percent of the current seal population may have specific immunity from the last epidemic.
15 July 2002