Polar Bear Alopecia: Alaskan Polar Bears Losing Fur

Alaska polar bears are suffering from alopecia (loss of fur), as well as skin lesions, according to Tony DeGange who is biology office chief at the USGS Science Center which is located in Anchorage, AK.

Scientists from the United States Geological Survey are not sure why the majestic creatures are suddenly displaying increased signs of fur loss. The Anchorage Daily News has reported that scientists are currently collecting samples of blood and tissue from bears afflicted with alopecia in an attempt to understand the significance of what is quite possibly an outbreak amongst Alaska polar bears.

While similar conditions were found back in the late 1990s, the cause has yet to be unveiled by scientists who are hard at work searching for an answer to the sudden loss of fur and skin sores. DeGange was quoted having said:

“We took biopsies in ’99 and couldn’t establish a causative agent for the hair loss then, but now we have this unexplained mortality event going on with seals and they haven’t been successful in figuring out what caused the seal deaths. Is it just a matter of coincidence or is it related? We don’t know.”

Back in December of 2011, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced an “unusual mortality event” after an unusual number of ringed seals were discovered on Alaska’s Arctic coast. The dead and dying seals showed similar symptoms as the bears with skin lesions and hair loss. Both Canada and Russia were later witness to their own batch of unexplainable seal deaths.

In the past two weeks, 33 bears were checked for the fur loss condition and nine of the polar bears appeared to be afflicted by the unknown ailment. Currently, the bears do not seem to be any worse off than those without the condition, as there has yet to have been any recorded mortalities attributed to the unknown condition.

What do you think might be the cause of this strange condition which has afflicted seals, walruses, and polar bears?