Sick Seals Found off the Norfolk Coast

A mysterious illness faces seal pups that live on the Norfolk beaches in the UK. The illness is destroying the species and baffling the scientists as the sickness leaves the pups weak, starving and struggling to breathe. The harbor seals, also known as common seals have needed emergency care by veterinarians twice as much as last year.

UK seals need help!
UK seals need help!

Since 1992, the RSPCA East Winch Wildlife Centre near King’s Lynn has cared for 60 to 65 sick and abandoned pups. In the past year, the center has nursed 121 back to health. Experts find no sign of viral disease or bacteria as they study the sick pups. Many of the seals have been infected with lungworm parasite, but this is not the cause of the disease in the animals. This past year scientists have found emaciated and dehydrated older pup. Many have dry eyes, cough up blood, and struggle to breathe.

Some think there is a connection between the ‘corkscrew’ deaths of about 20 Norfolk seals last summer. The seals were found with horrible corkscrew-shaped gashes from head to tail. Experts believe the seals had received those gashes through propellers of large boats. Some of the sick pups might be the pups of those mothers. Others believe it is the lack of fish in the North Sea, or something they are not aware of at all.

Finally, there are some scientists who believe that the seals are being wiped out by a virus that killed more than 3,000 common seals fourteen years ago. The virus is called Phocine Distemper Virus (PDV), spread on the breath of infected seals. In fact, last week the first cases of the virus since 1988 were confirmed. This is a highly infectious virus, similar to canine distemper. It cannot be treated and spreads quickly. It attacks the seal’s immune system making them easy prey for pneumonia and respiratory problems.

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