Scientists in the United States have identified a new strain of influenza in harbour seals that could potentially impact human and animal health.
The H3N8 flu has been associated with the deaths of harbour seals in New England last year.
Researchers say the virus may have evolved from a type that had been circulating in birds.
They say the discovery highlights the potential for pandemic flu to emerge from unexpected sources.
We need to be very nimble in our ability to identify and understand the potential risks posed by new viruses from unexpected source”
Dr Anne MosconaWeill Cornell Medical College
Researchers were puzzled by the mysterious deaths from pneumonia of 162 harbour seals around the coast of New England last year.
Autopsies on five of the marine mammals indicate that they died from a type of H3N8 influenza A virus that is closely related to a strain circulating in North American birds since 2002.