Bird flu was initially discovered in the Antarctic
Up until today, Antarctica was thought to be the final continent to be spared from the current avian flu outbreak, along with Australia and Oceania. However, the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), a polar research organization, reported that there is now evidence of the disease in birds on the small island of Bird Island in the Southern Ocean. Thus far, the skuas that comprise the brown skuas (Stercorarius antarcticus) have been impacted.
According to marine researcher Ralf Sonntag of the environmental defense group Pro Wildlife, “bird flu could trigger a first-degree environmental disaster in Antarctica.” There are breeding areas for up to 100 million seabirds, and five kinds of penguins, including emperor and adelie penguins, are unique to the area. The area was home to seal species like leopard seals and Weddell seals.
The BAS claims that samples were collected and examined in Great Britain in response to reports of sick and dead skuas. Returned migratory birds to South America are most likely the source of the infection. Previously immune to waves of disease, this continent is today badly impacted.
Bird Island is a seabird haven.
On Bird Island, BAS runs a research station. The researchers report that a variety of seabird species, including giant petrels, gentoo and golden-crested penguins, and migratory black-browed and grey-headed albatrosses, have colonies on the island.
The outbreak started in the fall of 2021 and was brought on by a variation of the H5N1 bird flu subtype. Many seabirds in the Northern Hemisphere, southern Africa, the Atlantic, the Pacific, and South America perished as a result of it, along with certain mammals. On the Pacific coast since the end of the previous year, hundreds of dead marine animals, including seals, pelicans, penguins, sea otters, and marine mammals, have been discovered, first in Peru and then in Chile.
In the summer, dead sea lions were found along Uruguay’s and Argentina’s Atlantic coasts. Thus far, South America has recorded the deaths of almost 15,000 seals. Experts state that it is yet unknown if the virus has already spread among the local creatures.
Dangerous circumstances in Europe as well
Significant effects are still being felt in Europe, where the traditional avian flu season is rapidly approaching. In a report containing data as of July/August, the independent Friedrich Loeffler Institute (FLI) stated at the end of September that shorebird mortality in breeding colonies were happening throughout. Seals, minks, martens, foxes, and cats also perished.
According to Timm Harder, head of the FLI’s Institute for Virus Diagnostics in Greifswald, bird species that have never experienced bird flu are especially vulnerable. He said the German Press Agency, “We are aware that certain species of penguins are vulnerable to the virus.” “If the viruses were to break into the large Antarctic penguin populations from South America, one would have to expect dire consequences.”
According to Harder, neither Australia nor Oceania will escape unscathed. “It’s just a matter of time.”