Polar bears suffer from mysterious illness causing patchy hair, open sores
Nine out of 33 bears were seen exhibiting lossof fur and skin lesions
By Meena Hart Duerson / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Published: Monday, April 9, 2012, 4:34 PM
Updated: Monday, April 9, 2012, 4:34 PM
A group of polar bears (not pictured) were spotted suffering from hair loss, open sores.
The bears, part of a group of 33, were "observed with alopecia, or loss of fur, and other skin lesions," the U.S. Geological Survey said in a statement. "The animals were otherwise healthy in appearance and behavior."
Scientists took samples from the bears and are investigating if there is a link between their physical condition and an "unusual numbers" of seals found dead in Alaska last summer who exhibited similar symptoms.
Three other bears studied in another part of Alaska also showed the symptoms, according to The Associated Press.
The bears aren't the first to show these signs - ten of the 48 bears the scientists checked in 1998-99 showed similar symptoms, according to Tony DeGange, chief of the biology office at the USGS Science Center in Anchorage.
"Our data set suggests that this is unusual, but not unprecedented," DeGange told the Anchorage Daily News.
USGS scientists collect data on the polar bear population in the Beaufort Sea region of Alaska annually as part of a long-term research project.
Though the cause of the condition remains a mystery, scientists say the potential link between the bears’ symptoms and the seal deaths is reason to keep investigating.
"We took biopsies in '99 and couldn't establish a causative agent for the hair loss then," DeGange told the paper. "But now we have this unexplained mortality event going on with seals. And they haven't been successful in figuring out what caused the seal deaths. Is it just a matter of coincidence or is it related? We don't know."
A group of walruses with similar symptoms were also seen nearby in the fall, though none of the walruses have been reported dead.
So far, none of the affected polar bears have died either.
"The bears we've caught that are affected don't seem to be any worse off than any of the non-affected bears," DeGrange told the News.