Skip to main content

Scientist to Test Seals for Radiation, but Sees Japan Link as Unlikely

  • Author:
  • Updated:

Ringed seals are dying and getting sick in the waters off Alaska, Russia and Canada, and scientists don't know why. Could it be radiation poisoning from the reactor leak at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan?

Speculation has run wild as to just how much damage the leak, which was triggered by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake that hit Japan in March, will have on the environment. To address these concerns, John Kelly, a professor emeritus of chemical oceanography at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, will be testing tissue from the sickened ringed seals for evidence of radiation.

Kelly told the Associated Press that he does not think he will find a nuclear explanation for the seal's plight—to date, 60 have been found dead in the waters off Alaska, and 75 are reported to be suffering from a variety of ailments, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Damage includes lesions on their flippers and in their mouths, fluid in their lungs, white spots on their livers and abnormal growth in their brains. Those seals that are alive are said to be extremely lethargic.

Kelly sees slim odds of finding evidence of radiation in the seal tissue. "My gut feeling is that there's nothing there, that the answer lies in something else that's in the sea," he told the AP, but added that "you never can tell. ... There may be some surprises."