Kathy Burek is on the front line of climate change. As one of only three certified veterinary pathologists in all of Alaska, Burek is one of the first to notice when new diseases and unusual changes in the environment start affecting wildlife populations.
In the last few years, mass animal die-offs have affected almost every last corner of the world, from the Great Barrier Reef to the Siberian Tundra. In the Russian Arctic, for example, scientists linked an anthrax outbreak to a previously-dormant pathogen released from a thawing reindeer carcass that infected thousands of reindeer and caused the death of at least one boy. In 2013, warming ocean temperatures on the West Coast of the United States spurred the formation of a persistent mass of warm, nutrient-poor water that scientists called “the blob,” which led to unprecedented die-offs of seals, sea lions, and other marine animals.
Linking animal deaths to climate change is tricky. But as the the polar regions warm at a quicker pace than the rest of the world, it is the type of research conducted by scientists like Kathy that will give us clues of what’s to come in a rapidly changing climate. VICE News went along with Burek as she examined the carcass of a sea lion.
This segment originally aired August 28, 2017, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.