New England Seals Test Positive for Avian Flu and Distemper

August 23, 2018

Preliminary results suggest that avian flu and/or phocine distemper virus may be contributing to the elevated seal strandings in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts since June 1, 2018.

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Harbor seal pup on Maine's rocky shoreline

An increase in both live and dead stranded harbor seals and gray seals continues along the coasts of Southern Maine, New Hampshire, and northern Massachusetts, with spikes in strandings over the last week. Currently more than 400+ seals have stranded live or dead in the region since June 1, 2018. Live seals are presenting in poor body condition with clinical signs of lethargy, coughing, sneezing, and seizing.

Some of the first batch of sampled seals that stranded in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts during the last several weeks have tested preliminarily positive for either avian influenza or phocine distemper virus. In addition, four seals so far have tested positive for both viruses. These are preliminary results based on the first set of samples analyzed by the Tufts University and University of California, Davis laboratories. We have many more samples to process and analyze, so it is still too soon to determine if either or both of these viruses are the primary cause of the mortality event.

Past seal mortality events in northeastern U.S. coast have been linked to avian flu and phocine distemper virus. However, avian flu and phocine distemper virus have also been detected at low levels in seals along the northeastern U.S. coast in non-outbreak years.

If you see a new sick or injured seal, please call the NOAA hotline: 866-755-NOAA (6622). Please be patient, as the stranding response teams are very busy.

For your safety and theirs, don’t touch a stranded seal, don’t allow pets to approach the seal, and observe the animal from a safe distance of 100 yards.

Last updated by Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office on August 23, 2018