Sea otters and seals in the Pacific Ocean, off Alaska, are infected with a virus that once was seen only in animals in the Atlantic. A new study suggests that melting ice in the Arctic may be to blame — and that climate change may help spread the disease to new areas and new animals.
Tracey Goldstein, a biologist at the University of California, Davis, got curious when sea otters in the Pacific tested positive for phocine distemper virus — a cousin of canine distemper virus — in 2004, two years after a major outbreak among European harbor seals. Genetic analysis showed that the infections were connected.
Melting sea ice is a viable explanation — but not the only one, said Charles Innis, a veterinarian. He suggested “an intermediate host, like a bird,” or transmission from a ship.
The outbreaks seem to arrive in cycles, Goldstein said, because the animals build immunity to the infection. The study identified a second wave of viral antibodies in 2009 in several seal species, including ice seals, northern fur seals and Steller sea lions.
Curbing plastic waste one room at a time
Love those dainty little bottles of shampoo, conditioner and hand lotion in hotel bathrooms? You may not be able to get them for much longer — states, localities and some hotels are scrapping them.
The bottle bans follow recent efforts to curb other single-use plastic products, which supporters say will reduce the amount of plastic waste filling landfills and polluting the seas. California enacted a law, set to take effect in 2023, banning the mostly 1- to 2-ounce bottles. New York is considering a similar measure, and local jurisdictions such as Fulton County (Atlanta), Ga., also are getting into the act.
Meanwhile, Marriott International, Hyatt Hotels and the company that owns Holiday Inn plan to replace the single-use bottles with large pump dispensers. Marriott said eliminating 500 million small bottles a year will save 1.7 million pounds of plastic. But opponents worry about the economic hit to the plastics industries.
Travel industry analysts say hotels should welcome the bans as a money-saver. They also will help hotels appeal to environmentally conscious customers.