Pasted below is some recent information on the Caspian Seal mass mortality event.  If you want more news stories about the die off, you can search for them at CODA.

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From: [email protected]

Thousands of Caspian seals (Phoca caspica) have died in the Caspian Sea
since April 2000. An international team, working as part of the Caspian
Environment Programme's Ecotoxicology Project (ECOTOX), has now concluded that canine distemper virus (CDV) infection was the primary cause of this die-off. The results have been posted on the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal website at www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/index.htm.

Workers from the Institute of Zoology, Regents Park, London, the Seal
Rehabilitation and Research Center, Pieterburen, The Netherlands, the Sea
Mammal Research Unit, University of St. Andrews, Scotland and the Tara
Seal Research Centre, Portaferry, Northern Ireland, visited areas of seal
mortality in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan during May and June 2000 to carry
out post-mortem examinations and collect tissue and blood samples from
dead seals. They worked in collaboration with staff from the Geological
Institute of the Azerbaijan Republic Academy of Sciences, Baku,
Azerbaijan, the Laboratory of Virus Ecology, Institute of Microbiology and
Virology, Almaty, Kazakhstan and Akademgorodok, Institute of Zoology,
Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Blood and tissue samples, collected from 16 dead seals found on the
Caspian coasts of Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, were then
analysed in the Veterinary Sciences Division of the Department of
Agriculture and Rural Development, Belfast, Northern Ireland, the
Institute of Animal Health, Pirbright, England and the Institute of
Virology, Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Microscopic lesions, characteristic of canine distemper, were found in over 50% of seals from which suitable tissues were available. These lesions were
frequently associated with large amounts of morbillivirus antigen as
demonstrated by immunohistochemical labelling. Canine distemper virus
(CDV)infection was identified by the reverse transcriptase-polymerase
chain reaction technique in tissues from 9 of 12 seals tested, and also by
nucleotide sequencing of selected P gene fragments. IgG and/or IgM
antibodies to CDV were found in 12 of 13 sera tested. These findings in
seals from several geographically dispersed regions of the Caspian Sea
indicate recent infection with CDV and provide strong evidence that this
virus was the primary cause of the epizootic.

Canine distemper virus is a morbillivirus which, in 1987-1988, caused high
mortality in Baikal seals (Phoca siberica) in Lake Baikal in Siberia and
is suspected of having caused a die-off of crabeater seals in Antarctica
in 1955. It was previously identified in a single Caspian seal in 1997
but could not be linked to disease in Caspian seals at that time. Other
morbilliviruses (phocine and cetacean morbilliviruses) have caused several
major epizootics among aquatic mammal populations in various regions of
the world in recent years.

Further studies are underway to determine the potential role of pollution
in the recent epizootic, which was recently continuing in some areas of
the Caspian Sea.

This investigation was supported by the World Bank through a donation by
the Japanese Consultant Trust Fund, and by the Offshore Kazakhstan
International Operating Company.

Seamus Kennedy
Veterinary Sciences Division
Department of Agriculture and Rural Development
Belfast BT4 3SD
Northern Ireland

Telephone +44 (0)28 9052 5701
Fax +44 (0)28 9052 5767