First polar bear dies of avian flu

The carcass was found on Alaska’s North Slope

Biologists in Alaska have confirmed the first case of a polar bear dying after contracting avian flu.

The state veterinarian’s office announced in December that a polar bear (Ursus maritimus) had died from the H5N1 strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza. Biologists believe the bear, found in the North Slope town of Utqiagvik in October, contracted the virus from scavenging on infected birds.

State veterinarian Bob Gerlach suspects other cases among polar bears have not been detected. “You’re really dependent on the public that’s out there, or the wildlife biologists that are doing surveillance,” he told the Alaska Beacon.

The virus has claimed red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), black bears (U. americanus) and brown bears (U. arctos), in addition to wild birds—particularly waterfowl—and domestic poultry in the state since it was first discovered there in April 2022.

Read more from the Alaska Beacon.

This article has been updated to correct the polar bear’s scientific name.

Header Image: After the death of a polar bear to avian flu in Alaska, biologists suspect the virus may be more widespread among the species. Credit: USFWS