Deadly virus spreads among marine mammals as Arctic ice melts
As climate change worsens, scientists fear the virus—once found only in European waters—could spread to the U.S. West Coast.
When sea otters in Alaska were diagnosed with phocine distemper virus (PDV) in 2004, scientists were confused. The pathogen in the Morbillivirus genus that contains viruses like measles had then only been found in Europe and on the eastern coast of North America.
“We didn’t understand how a virus from the Atlantic ended up in these sea otters. It’s not a species that ranges widely,” says Tracey Goldstein, a scientist at the University of California Davis who investigates how pathogens move through marine ecosystems.
Using 15 years of data from 2001 to 2016, Goldstein and her research team were able to see upticks in PDV that corresponded with declines in Arctic sea ice. This new range for the otters likely allowed infected