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An “abnormal number” of seal deaths off the coast of Maine associated with bird flu

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Portland, Maine — An unusual number of seals are stranded and dying in Maine this summer. The federal government said Tuesday that it was due to bird flu.

The USDA has confirmed that samples from seals in four Maine states have been tested positive for the virus. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, all animals died or needed euthanasia.

The NOAA said in a statement that marine mammal rescue teams began to notice an unusually large number of seal groundings in June, after which the USDA conducted tests. The proportion of cetacean stranding in Maine is about three times higher than normal in summer, close to 60, officials said.

USDA has notified the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state animal and public health authorities about the deaths of tens of millions of chickens and turkeys on farms due to the outbreak of bird flu. Viruses can jump to mammals, but rarely affect humans.

This isn’t the first time bird flu has jumped into marine mammals such as seals, but the federal government is still closely monitoring the dead, according to NOAA spokesman Allison Ferreira.

“It was the cause of concern for these animals because of the nationwide outbreak of bird flu,” Ferreira said.

According to NOAA, most of the seals that were stranded and founded in Maine this summer are dead. Dead seals include gray seals and harbor seals.

According to a NOAA statement, “the health risks that bird flu poses to the general public are low, but preventative measures are recommended.” Authorities said humans and pets should never approach seals and should contact the authorities if they find an animal that appears to be stuck.

Hundreds of birds have died in Martha’s Vineyard elsewhere in New England, and local authorities have warned of possible outbreaks of bird flu.

The source of the seal is still under investigation.

Rescue organization Maine’s marine mammals have responded to 40 stranded seals since June 1, said organization spokesperson Katy Green, “recognizing this evolving situation.” He said he was working with NOAA.

Gray seals and harbor seals are abundant off the coast of New England, loved by wildlife observers and sometimes lamented by fishermen. But deaths from bird flu are not the first time they have died at an alarming rate.

From July 2018 to March 2020, NOAA declared Azara Sidis’s “abnormal death event” after more than 2,700 people were stranded in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. The virus does not affect humans.

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2/ https://www.cbsnews.com/boston/news/maine-seal-deaths-bird-flu/

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