Virus killing record number of bottlenose dolphins

by Sabrina I. Pacifici on November 11, 2013

Wired –  ”A viral outbreak that’s killing bottlenose dolphins is moving down the U.S. East Coast as the animals migrate south for the winter. Between July 1 and November 3, at least 753 animals have died. The outbreak began along the coast between New York and Virginia this summer. Now, carcasses are washing ashore in the Carolinas and Florida. Researchers have identified the cause as dolphin morbillivirus, a pathogen that’s related to human measles and canine distemper. Morbillivirus infects dolphins’ lungs and brains, causing weird behaviors and skin lesions and pneumonia (but the marine mammals can’t pass it on to humans). In a normal year, during this same timeframe and in the same geographic area, the average number of dolphins recovered from the beaches would be 74. So far, Virginia has been the hardest hit by the outbreak, with more than 330 dolphins retrieved from its mid-Atlantic shores. New Jersey takes the dubious honor of second place, with 131 dolphins. In the last month, the Carolinas saw their total spike to more than 120…The die-off has already been classified as an Unusual Mortality Event by the federal government – a designation that frees up resources and sends investigators and responders to the hardest-hit areas. It’s already exceeded the pace set by the last major morbillivirus outbreak on the East Coast, an event that lasted for 11 months, between June 1987 and May 1988, and ultimately claimed 742 dolphins. “We are less than halfway through that time frame, and we have surpassed the number of cetacean strandings reported in the 87-88 die-off,” said Teri Rowles, the coordinator of NOAA’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program. “There is no vaccine that is developed that can be deployed for a large, wild population of bottlenose dolphins. Or any cetacean species.”

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