Source: Arctic Today
According to researchers at the University of California Davis, baleen and toothed whales like narwhals and belugas may be at high risk for coronavirus infection. The team of scientists has created a list of animals with ACE-2 receptors likely to bind closely to the coronavirus—the mechanism by which humans become infected. The preliminary study has not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal, and more research needs to be done.
Speaking recently at a Wilson Center briefing, study authors Harris Lewin and Martin Nweeia raised the possibility of Arctic marine mammals contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Endangered wildlife that becomes infected could also serve as virus reservoirs and in turn cause more human infections in the future. More worrying still, according to a 2015 study, toothed whales have lost an important gene that helps fight viruses.
Scientists have recorded coronavirus infections in cetaceans and other marine mammals in the past: In 2000, a respiratory coronavirus was found in some of the remains of a group of harbor seals found dead along a California coast, and in 2008, a captive beluga was found to have liver damage caused by a coronavirus. Whales are known to be susceptible to coronaviruses carried by birds, but it’s not clear whether they are also at high risk for infection from coronaviruses carried by bats, such as the virus responsible for the current pandemic in humans.
If a risk to marine wildlife is established, it may result in changes to the way researchers in the Arctic—and subsistence hunters—interact with whales.
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