Look at that cute seal: that spray of whiskers, the shimmery coat of gray, those eyes like dark pools that seem to look back at you as though looking for a friend.
But beneath that sympathetic surface, could the common harbor seal actually serve as a laboratory-in-the-wild for the next generation of lethal pandemic flu virus? Sadly, a study says the possibility may exist.
The news stems from an investigation into the deaths of 162 New England harbor seals between September and December 2011. A report in the July 31 issue of microbiology journal mBio found that the seals died from a variant of avian H3N8 flu that has been known to thrive in North American birds since 2002.