NOAA steps up probe of New England seal deaths

Posted Nov. 04, 2011, at 7:53 p.m.

BOSTON — Federal officials are stepping up investigations into the deaths of 146 harbor seals along the New England coast since September after samples of five animals tested positive for the Influenza A virus.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Friday that the deaths were declared an “unusual mortality event,” enabling the agency to pour more resources into the probe.

The seals are generally less than a year old and have a healthy appearance. They have been found in Maine, New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts.

NOAA says more tests are being done to determine whether the influenza virus has a role in the overall deaths after results for six other pathogens and substances came back negative.

Officials warn people and pets to stay away from seals to avoid risking their health.