2011 Ringed Seal and Walrus Disease Unusual Mortality Event (UME)

Onsite Coordinator:  Raphaela Stimmelmayr
Offsite Coordinators: Joel Garlich-Miller (USFWS), Aleria Jensen (Alaska Marine Stranding Network/NOAA)
Collaborators: Ice Seal Committee, Walrus Commission, USFWS, NOAA/NMFS, Dr. Steven Raferty
Funding: Prescott Grant (NOAA), NSB
Project Objective: The NSB-DWM has been conducting beach surveys near Barrow for stranded marine mammals since the discovery of sick seals in the summer of 2011. These surveys were continued in the summer of 2012 and will continue in the summer of 2013 to follow up and assess the health of any stranded marine mammals, including ice seals.

What is an Unusual Mortality Event (UME)? Title IV of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA, 16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) defines a set of multiple strandings to be part of an "Unusual Mortality Event" (UME) if it has the following characterisics:

  1. It is unexpected.
  2. It involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population.
  3. And, it demands an immediate response.

What is the benefit of an official UME declaration? Money from the Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Event Fund may be made available to help reimburse some of the "special costs" incurred during the investigation as specified in Section 405 of the MMPA and the National Contingency Plan for Response to Unusual Marine Mammal Mortality Events.

In late November of 2011, the NSB-DWM submitted a request for a formal consultation to the Working Group Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Event (WGMMUME) in response to the ongoing disease outbreak in Alaskan ice seals and Pacific walrus. This UME consultation package was developed in collaboration with many tribal, local, state and federal partners.

On December 21st, NMFS and USFWS followed the WGMMUME recommendation and officially declared the 2011 Northern Alaska Pinniped Unusual Mortality Event an UME. Since then, NOAA and USFWS have appointed NSB-DWM wildlife veterinarian and research biologist, Raphaela Stimmelmayr, as an Onsite Coordinator to oversee and administer the investigation. Joel Garlich-Miller (USFWS) and Aleria Jensen of the Alaska Marine Stranding Network (NOAA) have been appointed as offsite coordinators. Steven Raverty is the liaison to the WGMMUME and with Terri Rowles, head of the National Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program.

On the North Slope, if you find a marine mammal
that is not looking healthy or is acting strange, please contact:

North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management
at 907-852-0350 (days) or 907-750-5486 (evenings/weekends)

In the Bering Strait region, contact:
Eskimo Walrus Commission at 1-877-277-4392
Gay Sheffield (UAF-Marine Advisory Program) at 1-800-478-2202

From anywhere in the state of Alaska,
you can call the Marine Mammal Stranding Network
at 1-877-925-7773

For more information on Radiation and Wild Food Safety, see this State of Alaska site.

map of reported locations of sick seals walrus

Reports:

2011 Fukushima fallout: Aerial deposition on the sea ice scenario and wildlife health implications to ice-associated seals

This poster was presented at the 2014 Alaska Marine Science Symposium by Doug Dasher et al.  The testing for radiactivity as a causal factor in the 2011 UME was in response to hunters' concerns about the Fukushima incident after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The results of this study indicate that there is no indication of radionuclide contamination in seals in the Bering and Chukchi Seas at this time.  For more information on radionuclide testing and radiation click here.

Poster presented at 2014 AMSS in Anchorage, Alaska