The major earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck Japan in March led to the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. For months the nation battled to control the meltdown and reduce radiation exposure which was unfortunately prevalent in the region, both in the air and water. Not only did radiation enter the nation’s drinking water, it also entered the sea.
High levels of radiation were found well out to sea near Japan in the following weeks of the meltdown. Radiation was entering the sea directly in large quantities according to sources at the time, so dire was the situation that radiation was also found in the rain. Although many scientists concluded that the radiation would be diluted by the ocean, even small levels can be poisonous to ecosystems and individual species.
Radiation in the air was detected thousands of miles from Japan at the height of the disaster but the true spread of the radiation in the ocean is not fully known. However, a team of scientists in Alaska are now concerned that the radiation has caused conditions in ringed seals in the region. Mammals, especially those with large fat deposits (such as blubber), easily bioaccumulate toxins in their systems which could be why the seals are showing signs many months later.
Many ringed seals have been coming ashore in Alaska either ill or deceased. The individuals have been exhibiting loss of fur, bleeding lesions in their mouths and on their hind flippers, and signs of irritation on their face. At first the scientists believed the seals were suffering from a form of virus, however, tests have revealed no virus present.
The scientists are now are sending in samples to be tested for radiation exposure, however, the tests will not be available for weeks to come. The waters in the region have been tested for radiation but there is currently no increased level of radiation in the area. No elevation in radiation now does not mean that the seals could not be suffering from previous elevated levels, such as from bioaccumulation.
Scientists and residents of the region alike have all been concerned as to the cause of the ringed seals current state. The scientists are hoping the recent tests will shed some answers on the disease which has thus far escaped determination.