Massive Die-Off of Elephant Seals in Argentina Due to Avian Influenza Is Latest Sign that the Virus Is an Existential Threat to Wildlife


New York, January 15, 2024 – The Wildlife Conservation Society is issuing the following statement about H5N1 Avian Influenza due to ongoing wildlife die-offs across the world:


Said Dr. Chris Walzer, WCS Executive Director of Health:


“With the frightening die-off of animals across the globe due to avian influenza, WCS is calling for governments internationally to treat this growing crisis with the urgency it demands. As we continue to monitor the death of innumerable species and track the movement of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) into mammal populations, we must strengthen the focus on integrating the surveillance of emerging influenza clades in wild birds and mammals to support critical vaccine libraries.


“H5N1 now presents an existential threat to the world’s biodiversity. It has infected over 150 wild and domestic avian species around the globe as well as a dozens of mammalian species. The bird flu outbreak is the worst globally and also in U.S. history, with hundreds-of-million birds dead since it first turned up in domestic waterfowl in China in 1996. Bird flu is highly transmissible, spread through droplet and feces-borne infections, and exacerbated by climate-change-altering migration schedules for birds and its repeated re-circulation in domestic poultry.


“Globally, HPAI H5N1 has now infected many mammals—including foxes, pumas, skunks, and both black and brown bears in North America. Some 700 endangered Caspian seals died from HPAI near Dagestan in 2023. Additionally, outbreaks in mink farms in Spain and Finland that serve as potential mixing vessels for reassortment have also been documented. HPAI H5N1 has arrived in Latin America with devastating consequences, afflicting multiple countries that include WCS land- and seascapes in Peru, Chile, Uruguay, Ecuador, and Argentina.


“More than 95 percent of the Southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina) pups born along 300 km of the Patagonia coastline died at the end of 2023. It’s the first report of massive elephant seal mortality in the area from any cause in the last half century. The sight of elephant seals found dead or dying along the breeding beaches can only be described as apocalyptic. This 2023 die-off contrasts starkly with the 18,000 pups born and successfully weaned in 2022.


“As the virus continues to spread through mammal populations, the World Health Organization (WHO) has called on public health officials to prepare for a potential spillover of H5N1 to people. The “R naught” value—or the number of people infected by a single infected person—for COVID initially ranged from 1.5 to 7. For H5N1 among birds, it is around 100. It is imperative that we take a collaborative One Health approach to identifying emerging strains of bird flu across the globe to support the development of specific and universal vaccines that can quickly treat infection in people to prevent another pandemic.


“The cost of inaction is already causing major devastation to wildlife. As we work to help affected populations recover, we must remain vigilant against the spread of this deadly pathogen to people before it’s too late.”

Dead pups spread on an extended beach. Adults abandoned the breeding area. There are only carcasses in a coast that should have congregated thousands of reproductive females and males.

Credit: ©Maxi Jonas

Please donate here: Support Carmarthenshire News Online Thank you for supporting independent journalism and contributing to the future of local news in Carmarthenshire. Carmarthenshire News Online has been dedicated to providing unbiased and trustworthy news, free from commercial or political influence. By donating as little as £1, you can help ensure the continuation of this important source of information for the community. Your contribution will have a significant impact on the sustainability of independent journalism. If you're looking to enhance your brand's visibility, we also offer advertising opportunities on our Livestream and podcasts. Our special offers provide excellent value for reaching our engaged audience. To learn more about these opportunities and to discuss your advertising needs, please feel free to call or text us at 07308598604. Thank you again for your support, and together we can ensure the availability of quality local news for Carmarthenshire and beyond.

Please donate here: Support Carmarthenshire News Online

You cannot copy any content of this page