Bird flu confirmed in Antarctic, experts fear mass deaths of penguins and seals

Animal News : Bird flu confirmed in Antarctic, experts fear mass deaths of penguins and seals

The deadly H5N1 bird flu virus has been detected in the Antarctic for the first time, leading to fears about the region’s penguin and seal populations. 

Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) began testing birds from the region after noting unexpected deaths. The virus was identified in brown skuas on Bird Island, which lies off the northwest corner of South Georgia in the Southern Atlantic Ocean.

It’s believed these large seabirds contracted the virus in South America, where H5N1 has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of seabirds and sea lions in Chile and Peru.

The H5N1 variant, responsible for killing millions of birds since its outbreak in 2021, has alarmed researchers because of its possible effect on unique Antarctic species. 

Ashley Bennison from BAS expressed their concerns, stating that while they will keep monitoring the island’s wildlife, the full repercussions of the bird flu outbreak are still unknown.

Bird Island is a crucial wildlife sanctuary with endangered birds, 50,000 breeding penguin pairs, and 65,000 fur seal pairs. A Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research study highlighted fur seals, sea lions, skuas, gulls, and penguins as the most susceptible to the virus.

Following the discovery of the virus on Bird Island, most fieldwork involving animals has been halted. 

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