Alaskan Polar Bears Are Losing Their Fur: Why?

Polar bears in Alaska are losing their fur: What’s going on?

In late March, United States Geological Survey (USGS) biologists conducting routine studies on 33 bears in the southern Beaufort Sea region near Barrow found that nine of them had fur loss — alopecia — or skin lesions on their skin, neck and ears (a photo posted on Alaska Public Radio Network shows a bear with the lesions). As Kieran Mulvaney writes on Discovery News, bears with such fur loss are not uncommon; what is unusual is to find so many bears with such. The bears appeared to be otherwise healthy.

USGS chief biologist Tony DeGange says that bears with such symptoms have been found since 1999. Scientists will be collecting blood and tissues from polar bears near the Canadian border and also in the Prudhoe Bay region in mid-May to try to figure out what is causing the symptoms.

One possible culprit is a “mysterious illness” affecting seals and walruses that left 60 seals dead and another 75 diseased last summer in an Unusual Mortality Event. Seals with the disease have sores, labored breathing and lethargy while walruses, though their skin and fur are affected, seem healthy. Notably, ringed seals, polar bears’ primary prey, are the most affected, though other types of seals (ribbon, bearded and spotted) also have the disease.

Alaska Public Radio Network says that polar bears are not being considered part of the Unusual Mortality Event. The bears are a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act; even if they were not, DeGange says that the USGS “would put a high priority on understanding what’s causing the symptoms” as they are an “iconic species in the arctic” and a “subsistence resource to the natives on the north slope.”

Let’s hope scientists can figure out what is causing polar bears to lose their fur soon and certainly before any bears succumb to the “mysterious illness” as the seals have.

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Photo by John Harwood


Aileen C.
AILEEN C5 years ago

All this misery for sela and polar bears will be found to human activity, illegal dumping at sea. Betchya

Vicky Pitchford
Vicky P5 years ago


Waheeda Smith
Waheeda E5 years ago

Please figure out what's wrong with these poor polar bears. Isn't it bad enough that their habitat's being slowly eroded? :(

mari s.
Mari S5 years ago

I hope they find the cause -- also, the cure, if the bears weren't otherwise in good health, which they are. It's horrible what happened to the seals and walruses when they became afflicted with this mysterious illness -- i feel so very sorry for them.

Yulan Lawson
Yulan Lawson5 years ago

Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

Tucker T.
Tucker T5 years ago





Gerald Landry
Gerald L5 years ago

Contact dermatitus in humans is caused by exposure to toxins, should not be a mystery in animals.
Man is on self-destruct, maximized profits have priority over pollution abatement. How many new Nuke plants and refurbs are scheduled in North America ?

ann b.
Ann B5 years ago

Hope the scientists can help the polar bears.

Lyndsay V.
lyndsay J5 years ago

I'd take my fur off too if the heater was broken and the repairman never came.