Observation: I have an interest in the health of the sea mammals because of the Fukushima disaster and I try to keep myself updated. We rely on the foods from the sea, especially the oil from the bearded seals and the beluga. Not only is it food, it's medicine for our people. Beluga oil is very good at preventing illnesses from progressing into a full blown infection of any kind, the most common being the strep throat and the flu. We have to do what we can to protect our resources.
In any event, even if the foods we eat from the ocean may not be affected, they do migrate through the bodies of water surrounding Alaska so we do have cause for concern. So we keep an eye on the sea life we harvest and that includes the bearded seal, which is a favorite food for many. But it also includes belugas, bowhead whales, walrus and the fish that migrate through the bodies of waters around Alaska.
We have noticed baby seals washing ashore because they are too weak to swim for lengths of time. There are walruses that come to shore also from being so sick. My brother shot a walrus last summer that was so skinny, we were very alarmed at it's condition. Baby walruses come ashore but we leave them alone. They are alone. We do not know if they survive or not. We have taken photos of them. Pt. Hope also reports very sick walruses summer time also. We do not harvest the ones that look sick.
However, the most recent discovery was a rainbow trout brought to the city office on Tuesday, November 3, for documentation. I've attached photos of the very sick fish. It was still alive but didn't have the strength to get back into the water after it had been washed ashore by the tide. It looked like whatever made it sick had already progressed so bad, the bloody entrails were exiting out and it was also bleeding through the mouth. There were the beginnings of lesions on the skin but it hadn't progressed very bad by the time it washed ashore. The tail was also being eaten away by chemicals. We realize it could be anything.
In 1990 here in Kivalina, Teck's Red Dog Mine's discharge caused a fish kill and hundreds of dead fish (trout) lined the Wulik River. Red Dog Mine extracts minerals such as zinc and lead. The skin, especially the tails and fins of many had been eaten by the chemicals and some that were still alive were blind with flesh eaten away also (I saw this myself.) We saw a fish just swimming aimlessly, or trying to, bumping into the bank over and over. We had no cell phones back then to document it, which was unfortunate. It was a poor site to see. That being said, the rainbow trout in the photo has the same kind of condition as the Kivalina trout.
Because of ice conditions last spring, or lack thereof, the Kivalina people were not able to harvest the favored bearded seals. However, last year, we did not notice anything wrong with them but we do keep an eye out for affects. We are very much aware of the possibility of radiation from Fukushima affecting the ocean life but we realize there are other possibilities. Janet Mitchell, City Administrator, Kivalina City Council, with Replogle Swan, Kivalina Search and Rescue
LEO says: There are a variety of local names used for the anadromous fish of Alaska. In Kivalina the Arctic Char (Salveninus alpinus) is the most important subsistence fish harvested. It is sometimes referred to as ''Rainbow Trout' for its bright rainbow-like colors. LEO Network has received a number of reports this year about illness in fish, birds and sea mammals. A fish illness is generally referred to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for consult. Illness such as skin lesions may be related to trauma such as an injury, combined with infection. The presence of such illness in large numbers of fish (or birds, marine life etc.) would suggest a possible environmental stressor. In this case, only one fish was reported. The consult by Fish and Game seeks to provide the best possible analysis, limited by the examination of photographs from a single fish. The additional consult by the Department of Public Health provide an update on the state of knowledge based on monitoring for Fukushima radiation in Alaska's waters and wildlife. M. Brubaker
Alaska Department of Fish & Game Consult: "The pictures are of a char. There appears to be Saprolegnia (a water mold) growing on the tail. This water mold often feeds on decaying tissue of spawning adult salmonids or of fish that have sustained physical trauma (such as from a predator attack).The anal fin has a blistered appearance, possibly a proliferative growth such as a neoplasm or tumor that has formed an ulcer. A systemic infection (such as a bacterial infection in blood) may also be involved as there appears to be reddening in the head region. Unfortunately the specimen is in too poor of condition for pathologic evaluation.Because only one fish was reported, it is less likely that the symptoms are from a chemical exposure and more likely of a mold and bacterial cause." Dr. Jayde Ferguson, Fish Pathologist
Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Consult: "It looks like a traumatic injury to the gill plate and abdomen of the fish, causing visceral contents to be expressed from the anal area. But the lesion on the back and tail may be from topical fungus." Bob Gerlach, State Veterinarian
Alaska Division of Public Health – The State of Alaska public health and environmental health scientists have been monitoring new data that come out in relation to possible Fukushima effects on the Pacific ocean including marine mammals, fish, kelp, and water. Marine mammals - In 2011, scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the North Slope Borough analyzed ringed and bearded seals for radiation that could have come from Fukushima. Four of the seals were sick and one was healthy. The seals were collected from the North Slope, Little Diomede, Point Lay, Hooper Bay, and Shishmaref. The scientists did not see any indication that these seals had picked up any radiation from Fukushima. We are not aware of new data on marine mammals, but from what we know about fish, water, and seaweed tells us that the situation has not changed since 2011.
Fish -The State was able to send 20 composite fish samples in 2014 and 23 composite fish samples in 2015 of salmon, sablefish, pollock, and halibut that were collected from Alaska water. None of these tests were able to detect any radiation related to Fukushima. You can see these results on Alaska fish and much more about Fukushima on the websites of the departments of Environmental Conservation and Health and Social Services.
Water - The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has received and analyzed dozens of water samples for radiation from Fukushima. A few samples off the coast of British Columbia, Canada indicate that some of the radiation have reached the Pacific Coast, but the levels of radiation in these samples remain 2,000-3,000 times lower than what is allowed in drinking water by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While we do not drink ocean water, these results indicate that the levels are so low that they are of no public health concern to us or to ocean life in Alaska water.
Kelp - Another effort by two California institutions analyzed dozens of kelp samples collected all along the U.S. Pacific coast, including some from Alaska. These institutions found no indication of Fukushima radiation in the kelp, although kelp tend to concentrate some minerals from water. In summary, we do not find that the tragic events at Fukushima adversely affected Alaska marine mammal, fish, kelp, or water. Dr. Ali Hamade, Environmental Public Health Program Manager
Alaska Public Media (2017-01-10) Fukushima radiation yet, and unlikely, to affect Alaska seafood, by Avery Lill, KDLG