Bird flu threatens future of elephant seals in Peninsula Valdes

The world’s only mainland breeding colony for southern elephant seals is located on the Valdes Peninsula in the Chubut Province of Argentina. Affected by the Avian Influenza Epidemic (WCS Argentina)

this Argentina’s latest bird flu victim yes southern elephant seal Located on the Valdes Peninsula in Chubut Province.Its scientific name is Leonine Mironga.Public institutions National Agri-food Health and Quality Service (Senasa) The infection focus for this species was confirmed.

This discovery occurred in the context of a Global Avian Influenza Epidemic,it’s known “Animal diseases of all mankind” As it has affected the diversity of animal species. Growth has not stopped since 2021 “Amazing ratio” As the World Health Organization warns, the death rate is high pan american health organization.

Infection is mainly through wild bird and poultry.However, the current H5N1 strain has a greater impact on mammals because Mink in Europe until South American sea lions.

In October, we used different methods to conduct a census of the elephant seal population in different areas of the Valdes Peninsula coast.

The avian influenza outbreak in Chubut Province is part of the 2021 global avian influenza epidemic. It resulted in the death of millions of birds. South America affected by infection for the first time (REUTERS/Sebastian Castaneda)

The census was carried out by a working group of different public agencies and non-governmental organizations, composed of the Argentinian chapter of WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), Ministry of Tourism and Protected Areas of Chubut Province,as well as wildlife foundation Argentina.

Another census was conducted by: Elena Ed of Conicet Center for Marine Systems Research (CESIMAR). This is an aerial census that will be used to estimate the number of elephants.

For decades, experts have confirmed that the mortality rate of elephant seal pups during the breeding season has remained below 1%. instead, This year, 2023, extremely high offspring mortality rates were recorded, varying between 56% and 74%. According to WCSA reports.

Experts believe the risk of the H5N1 avian influenza virus affecting humans is currently low (WCS Argentina)

“The elephant seal population in the southern Valdes Peninsula is the only breeding population on the continent and the impact of avian influenza on mortality has never been seen before,” he warned in the conversation. database argentine scientist Marcela UhartGraduated in Veterinary Medicine national central university Director of the Latin America Program at the Province of Buenos Aires (UNICEN) and Center for Wildlife Health University of Californiain Davis, USA

“Elephant numbers have been growing steadily, but the loss of nearly all of the calves born this season would have a considerable impact,” said Uhart, who co-authored the report with WCS Argentina.

Additionally, “Deaths of fertile males and females have been recorded, and it’s unknown what happened to most of them after leaving the beach prematurely. They may have died at sea, we don’t know. It’s also possible that females After losing their young, they left early and were not fertilized. Therefore, if they survive, it is uncertain whether they will produce offspring next year. Soon, the young fish will arrive at the coast to molt, and we do not know whether the virus will also affect them.” Wu Hart said.

In the Valdes Peninsula, a census was carried out using different methods to investigate the status of the elephant seal population (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File)

Compared with previous years, there have been 40 to 70% fewer adult individuals along the coast in the area (depending on sector and sex).

“really, Bird flu will have an impact on seal populations.But it remains to be seen how many Because we still don’t know what effect it has on reproductive women. That’s why monitoring next season is crucial. It is expected that at least a certain percentage of the population will acquire immunity to the virus, but at this point all of these are just research questions,” Uhart acknowledged.

“Avian influenza is not the only factor affecting marine species. Climate change can have negative impacts, affecting food availability, interactions with fisheries, and other changes. Although avian influenza is already affecting fauna and we cannot stop it, we can Try to reduce other distractions,” experts emphasized.

Dead specimens of other species have also been recorded, such as South American terns, royal terns, yellow-billed terns, terns, kelp gulls and fur seals in the Valdes Peninsula.

Last August, an outbreak of bird flu was detected in sea lions along Argentina’s Atlantic coast (Image: Senasa)

Bird flu outbreak in Argentina Wild birds last February. Then they expanded to poultry from different provinces. For the first time, Argentina has lost the “avian flu-free” category for poultry. But there was a recovery last August after outbreaks in places such as commercial farms were found to be under control.

That same month, cases of avian influenza began to be detected in fur seals at various locations along the Atlantic coast. They are found from the province of Buenos Aires to Tierra del Fuego. According to SENASA, more than 1,000 sea lions have died. It is unclear how the virus was transmitted to the mammals, which have also been affected off the coast of Peru and Chile, where more than 20,000 specimens have died.

One possibility is that the animals may have become infected through contact with sick wild birds, or may have contracted the virus asymptomatically. Another possibility is transmission from one animal to another, but this has not been confirmed.

People who are in close contact with animals affected by avian influenza are at greater risk of contracting avian influenza (Getty)

Experts believe that the current risk of the H5N1 avian influenza virus affecting humans is low. But the risk is greater for people exposed to infected animals through work or recreational activities.

If people become infected, they may develop symptoms ranging from a mild upper respiratory tract infection (fever and cough) to pneumonia, septic shock, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and even death. According to the World Health Organization, gastrointestinal symptoms are more common in cases of H5N1 virus infection.

Between 2020 and 2023, 17 human cases of H5N1 avian influenza were reported. The cases are linked to poultry production workers during the outbreak. A related fact is that human-to-human transmission has not been demonstrated in these cases.

When visiting natural environments, contact with birds or other animals should be avoided to prevent the risk of contracting avian influenza (Courtesy of SENASA Argentina)

To reduce the risk of transmission, Conicet’s CENPAT reports that there is a course of action for those working on the ground in areas where affected animals may be found. They must use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).

People must also be informed of the need to take extreme precautions to avoid the spread of disease among sick animals and animals that are not yet infected. Here are Senasa’s recommendations:

– Avoid contact with all types of marine animals, whether birds or mammals.

– Do not collect bird or marine mammal remains on beaches.

– Please do not bring pets to the beach to avoid contact with symptomatic or dead wildlife.

– It is best not to consume food or drink near marine animals, and in case of accidental contact, wash thoroughly with soap and water.

– Obtain information from official sources and avoid viral information that does not come from the sources listed above.

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