In addition to causing the deaths of poultry and wild birds, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is now proving to be fatal to seals.

According to a press release from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Marine Mammals of Maine (MMoME) has responded to about three times more incidents of stranded seals than it normally would, with most of the seals being found dead. MMoME is a NOAA-authorized marine mammal stranding network partner.

NOAA stated that samples from four of the stranded seals tested positive for a strain of H5N1 HPAI, and the presence of HPAI in those samples was confirmed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Agency (APHIS) on July 1.

The seals that were not dead, but showing symptoms of HPAI were euthanized.

According to NOAA, partners will continue collect and analyze samples as new possible cases of HPAI in seals are detected. Response, recovery and sampling protocols for seals are in place and being led by MMoME. The response team is currently meeting on a daily basis.

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The HPAI cases in seals will be reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH).

People who see a sick, injured or dead seal in Maine, are advised call the Maine Marine Animal Reporting Hotline at +1.800.532.9551. Seal strandings south of Maine, should be reported by calling the NOAA Fisheries Stranding Hotline: +1.866.755.6622.

Seals are not the only mammals in North America to have contracted HPAI. The WOAH, formerly the OIE, reported in May that fox kits in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Ontario.

The first case of HPAI in North America during this outbreak was confirmed in Newfoundland and Labrador in December 2021.

Read our ongoing coverage of the global avian influenza outbreak.