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The demography of Weddell seals in eastern McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, has been well studied during the past three decades (e.g. Stirling 1971; Siniff et al. 1977; Testa and Siniff 1987; Hastings and Testa 1998; Gelatt et al. 2001). Detailed life-history data are available on thousands of seals tagged as pups in McMurdo Sound, making this population a rich resource for wildlife health studies because health parameters can be evaluated in the light of reproductive histories and genetic relationships of several generations of tagged seals.
Recently, evidence of exposure to diseases generally associated with domestic animals and feral wildlife has been detected in Antarctic wildlife (Austin and Webster 1993; Olsen et al. 1996; Gardner et al. 1997; Retamal et al. 2000; Foster et al. 2002) and this has generated concern and debate regarding the risks of disease introduction to Antarctic wildlife. Antibodies to viruses that have caused large die-offs in phocids in other areas of the world have been detected in Weddell seals (Bengtson et al. 1991), and there is a historical report of a mass die-off of crabeater seals that may have had a viral etiology (Laws and Taylor 1957).