Explosion of sea lion deaths in Peru amid deadly bird flu outbreak

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National Forest and Wild Fauna Service (SERFOR) personnel check on a sea lion, amidst rising cases bird flu infections in Peru, February 22, 2023. (Credit: Sebastian Castaneda/Reuters)

(CNN) — Thousands of sea lions have died in Peru amid an outbreak of bird flu, according to Peru's National Service of Protected Areas by the State (SERNANP).

Avian flu, also known as H5N1, has spread across multiple species in the country. An initial outbreak among birds was first reported in late November 2022 along the Peruvian coast.

SERNANP has now reported at least 63,000 dead birds due to the virus, as well as a rising number of deaths in other species.

At least 3,487 sea lions have been found dead due to the virus, according to the agency -- over 3% of Peru's sea lion population. It has also recorded five fur seal deaths linked to the bird flu.

"What we remember initially started with pelicans last year is now affecting these marine mammals," Peruvian veterinarian Javier Jara told Reuters.

Peruvian authorities are urging citizens to avoid physical contact with wildlife, dead or alive.

Avian flu has also infected a record number of birds and some mammals across the United States.

Since late 2022, scientists have detected this virus in more than 100 species of wild birds like ducks, seagulls, geese, hawks and owls in the US, where cases have also been identified among bears, foxes, bobcats, racoons, bears, and dolphins.

There have also been a handful of human cases. World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last month that the risk to humans remains low but added, "we cannot assume that will remain the case."

This story was first published on CNN.com, "Explosion of sea lion deaths in Peru amid deadly bird flu outbreak."