Via Seacoastonline.com in New Hampshire: Marine biologist calls for protocols to deal with dead seals. Excerpt:
A marine biologist and member of Hampton's Conservation Commission said the same environmental conditions that occurred last year when 162 dead seals washed ashore on Seacoast beaches exist today and it will likely happen again.
A recent study revealed the seals perished as a result of a new strain of avian flu capable of being transmitted from birds to mammals, possibly humans.
Ellen Goethel will go before the Hampton Board of Selectmen on Monday, Aug. 13, because she wants to see protocols put in place to protect the public in case there is a reoccurrence. "
It may never happen again, but my gut feeling is that it's going to," Goethel said.
The report, titled "Emergence of Fatal Avian Influenza in New England Harbor Seals," was released last week by a team of experts tasked with determining why the seals turned up dead from southern Maine to northern Massachusetts last fall. In the report, researchers identify the cause of death as an influenza A virus subtype, "H3N8," a new strain of avian flu that can jump from birds to marine mammals.
While there have been no known human cases to date, researchers urged caution, given the history of bird flu and its ability to evolve into forms that can infect people.
Goethel said the findings are a big concern.
"It's dangerous," she said. "We are a coastal community and we need to be on top of it. As a marine biologist, common sense tells you there is possibility of human infection whenever there is infection in a mammal. It's a human health risk and we have to decide how we are going to deal with it."
A big part of that, she said, is coming up with a protocol on the local level for removing the carcasses.
"In the past, they just left the carcass on the beach to float away," Goethel said. "But if they're possibly carrying something that can contaminate another animal, we have to dispose of them and figure out how we are going to do it."
Under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, it's illegal and punishable to pick up, handle or interact with free-swimming, dead or beached marine protected species.
Last year, due to the number of seal deaths, Goethel helped the town of Hampton receive permission from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to remove the dead seals. Goethel said she wants to make sure that permission is in place again because she said dead seals should not be left on a beach for days at a time.
"We also need to protect our town workers, if they're the ones that will be disposing of the carcasses," Goethel said.
She said the town can do other things on the local level to protect the public, including banning dogs on beaches when there are dead seals on shore.
Goethel said she wants the town to be proactive rather than wait for recommendations from the federal government or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which may take some time to get out.