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Dead Seals In Germany May Have Had Virus, Hunters Called In To Kill Sick

German wildlife authorities worry about the rapid spread of contagious diseases along the North Sea, especially since seals lie so close to one another when they rest on sand banks.

In the Baltic Sea
In the Baltic Sea
Birgit Lutz

TONNING – Since early October, at least 180 dead seals have been found along the North Sea coast of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein.

Dead fish and sea creatures often wash up onto beaches along the North and Baltic seas, but experts now say that these seals may have died of a virus that risks spreading further.

The situation is particularly worrisome because 200 of the 1500 seals living on the Danish Baltic Sea island of Anholt have died since August. "A flu virus was found in the cadavers," says Hendrik Brunckhorst, spokesman for the state government-owned Company for Coastal Protection, National Parks and Ocean Protection in Schleswig-Holstein.

To stem further deaths, seal hunters have been called to kill sick seals on the beaches of Helgoland, Amrum, Föhr and Sylt islands. "Ninety-five percent of the seals found on the beaches are already dead," says Sylt-based hunter Thomas Diedrichsen.

Except for a cough, the animals do not show outward signs of being sick, says seal expert Britta Diederichs of the National park service in Tönning. Experts at the Hannover Graduate School for Veterinary Pathobiology, Neuroinfectiology and Translational Medicinein Büsum are currently investigating the cause of death.

Phocine distemper virus or flu viruses could be the cause with devasting results as seals lie close to one another on sand banks thus facilitating spread of the disease by direct contact or droplet-borne infection.

During the last two outbreaks of phocine distemper in 2002 some 22,000 animals died, while 18,000 died in 1988. Expert Diederichs says the present outbreak is not expected to reach those proportions. "But nevertheless, we could be looking at 1,000 dead seals," she says.

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Common Seals near Terschelling, Netherlands — Photo: Mhaesen

Twelve-thousand seals currently live along the Schleswig-Holstein North Sea coast. "The number of seals has grown considerably in the past few years," says Diederichs. "The coughing we’re seeing could be down to a number of things, phocine distemper being just one of them."

Phocine distemper can lead to death within two weeks. It is caused by a virus similar to that which causes canine distemper. It weakens the animals’ immune system and makes them susceptible to infections like pneumonia. Coughing, shortness of breath and fever are typical symptoms.

Pollutants such as lead, mercury and cadmium that flow into the North Sea from rivers increase susceptibility to infection. A vaccine does exist, but the logistics of administering it to thousands of seals makes it impracticable. The virus is not dangerous to humans but experts recommend keeping a distance from sick or dead animals on beaches.

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Influencer Union? The Next Labor Rights Battle May Be For Social Media Creators

With the end of the Hollywood writers and actors strikes, the creator economy is the next frontier for organized labor.

​photograph of a smartphone on a selfie stick

Smartphone on a selfie stick

Steve Gale/Unsplash
David Craig and Stuart Cunningham

Hollywood writers and actors recently proved that they could go toe-to-toe with powerful media conglomerates. After going on strike in the summer of 2023, they secured better pay, more transparency from streaming services and safeguards from having their work exploited or replaced by artificial intelligence.

But the future of entertainment extends well beyond Hollywood. Social media creators – otherwise known as influencers, YouTubers, TikTokers, vloggers and live streamers – entertain and inform a vast portion of the planet.

✉️ You can receive our Bon Vivant selection of fresh reads on international culture, food & travel directly in your inbox. Subscribe here.

For the past decade, we’ve mapped the contours and dimensions of the global social media entertainment industry. Unlike their Hollywood counterparts, these creators struggle to be seen as entertainers worthy of basic labor protections.

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