Feds investigate seal deaths linked to bird flu

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The deaths of dozens of seals off the coast of Maine are considered an “unusual death,” sparking a federal investigation into strandings that appear to be linked to bird flu.

Seal strandings began in June and 150 have been reported through Monday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. Most seals were found dead.

NOAA classified the strandings that have affected harbor and gray seals as “unusual” on Friday. That authorizes a federal investigation to try to determine the cause and minimize the number of deaths.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has already confirmed that samples from four stranded seals tested positive for bird flu, which has been found in more than 40 states since its discovery in the winter of 2021.

The risk to the public of the occurrence of bird flu in seals is low, but beachgoers should take precautions anyway, NOAA representatives said.

“We continue to ask the public not to touch sick, stranded or floating dead seals, keep pets well away from seals and call their local stranding network organization to report live or dead stranded seals,” the agency said in a statement. .

Most strandings have occurred in the southern and central coast of the state, from Biddeford to Boothbay, NOAA said. Neither animal is listed under the Endangered Species Act, but both are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

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