Thousands of sea lions in Peru have died from H5N1

BNO News recently tweeted this footage from Al Jazeera, along with the description: "At least 3,500 sea lions in Peru have recently died of H5N1 bird flu, nearly 5 times as many as previously reported, the government says." WARNING before you watch: The video is horrific—it's very difficult to watch those poor creatures suffering. BNO also tweeted an article that provides more context. In the article, BNO News explains:

Nearly 3,500 sea lions in Peru have recently died of H5N1 avian influenza, five times as many as previously reported, the government announced Thursday amid growing concern about the virus. Tens of thousands of birds have also died.

According to an update from the agriculture ministry, at least 3,487 South American sea lions have been found dead in seven natural areas since November. This represents approximately 3.3% of the total population in the country.

The numbers are significantly higher compared to mid-February, when 700 sea lions were reported to have died.

"The high mortality observed was worrisome; for instance, up to 100 dead individuals floating together in the sea – an unprecedented observation for this geographical region," researchers said in a study last month. "The clinical symptoms of dying individuals were mainly neurological, such as tremors, convulsions and paralysis."

The South American fur seal has also been affected, with five of these mammals having been found dead in recent weeks. Authorities have also reported the deaths of a dolphin and a lion.

While it's not clear how the virus is spreading to the sea lions, researchers say it's possible that mammal-to-mammal transmission is playing a role, and add that "This should be urgently investigated." The article also sounds the alarm about the possibility of eventual human-to-human transmission, which we haven't seen yet but could be on the horizon, given how quickly it's been spreading to increasing numbers of other non-human mammals. While there have been 135 humans who have died from H5N1 since January 2003, all of these cases are thought to have been the result of direct transmission from human contact with infected birds. If we begin to see human-to-human transmission, and if the high death rate we've seen so far in human cases holds (WHO puts that rate currently at 56%), we'll be in for a situation that's almost too dire to comprehend. Human-to-human transmission would wreak havoc and cause unfathomable amounts of death and devastation. But even if that never happens, let's please not minimize the destruction that's already occurring for the birds and non-human animals we share this planet with—losing so many thousands of birds and non-human mammals across the planet is a terrible tragedy in and of itself.