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The case of the sick seals

December 30, 2011


Hoover was a friend of mine.

By David Ritchie

Word is coming in from Alaska about large numbers of dead and diseased seals found on beaches there.

The seals show symptoms that resemble radiation sickness in humans, including lethargy, hair loss, mysterious lesions, and irritation around the eyes and nose.

For details, see the following links:

and …

Numerous photos and a summary are here:

At first, the suspected cause was a virus. But when no virus could be held responsible, attention turned to Fukushima.

Had radioactivity from the stricken reactors there, dumped or leaked in vast amounts into the ocean, made its way swiftly up the food chain and brought radiation sickness to sea mammals?

To my knowledge, no final conclusions have been released to the public. But the story gets deeper and more intriguing all the time, as details circulate online.

Outside Japan itself, Alaska is one of the areas most heavily contaminated by Fukushima fallout. If no direct link exists between Fukushima and the dying seals, then the coincidence is, to say the least, remarkable.

This story touches me in a special way because Hoover, the famous “talking” seal at the New England Aquarium in Boston, was an acquaintance of mine some 30 years ago.

As spectators watched, Hoover would balance on his tail in the water (you had to see it to believe it) and deliver a monologue to the crowd.

Apparently Hoover had something on his mind and tried to communicate it to his human audience by voice modulation. His ramblings came so close to human speech that I would stop and listen in amazement.

Listen for yourself. You can hear a recording of him on YouTube at:

Hoover passed away in 1985. In life, he seemed cheerful. If he was trying to speak, then was he a marine Henny Youngman, telling one-liners picked up under the sea?

By contrast, the dying seals in Alaska are anything but merry. And they aren’t talking. At least, I’ve read no direct quotes.

But if they could speak, like whom would they sound? Like Savonarola, castigating us and prophesying our doom for what we have done to the whole biosphere?

Or do they even need voices? Their big dark eyes say all that need be said.

It’s the one-word question my late mother, a cancer victim (see Dec. 23 post), asked about her suffering just before she died: “Why?”

How eerie it feels to look into a sick animal’s eyes and hear a dying woman’s words.

And as in her case, there is no answer … yet.  

We lack the equivalent of a smoking gun to link the seals’ sickness and deaths to the Fukushima meltdowns. But we have the smoking ruins of the reactors, and the radioactive sea they caused.

So, detectives are at work. The question is, will their findings be released … or sealed?

No matter. For the seals, sealed findings will be as good as a guilty verdict on nuclear power.

Perhaps on our species, too.

ⓒDavid Ritchie 2011

(David Ritchie lives and works in Seoul, Korea. He welcomes correspondence and asks only that it be civil in tone. Contact: kwriter [at]

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  1. oil spill or dispersant perhaps? have to rule out ‘methane clathrate release’ for now…

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The case of the sick seals #SRFRDR « Darin R. McClure – The Good Life In San Clemente

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