The U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed that three adult harbor seals in Puget Sound tested positive for the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1 strain Sept. 8. The seals stranded on Marrowstone Island, approximately two-miles southeast of Port Townsend, Aug. 18 and 25 in the first appearance of HPAI in marine mammals on the West Coast.
The discovery followed an ongoing HPAI outbreak affecting seabirds on neighboring Rat Island since mid-summer and resulting in the death of approximately 1,700 birds.
An outbreak of HPAI in Maine last year killed approximately 500 harbor and gray seals, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
NOAA advised that people and pets should avoid all contact with sick or dead wildlife. HPAI is a zoonotic disease that can spread between animals and people. “Although the risk of infection to the general public remains low, beachgoers should not touch live or dead seals or allow pets to approach seals. They should maintain a safe distance of 100 yards,” according to NOAA.
Sick, injured or dead seals can be reported to the West Coast Region Stranding Hotline at 866-767-6114. Do not attempt to move sick wild animals as this can spread the disease. For more information, go to: https://wdfw.wa.gov.
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