A deadly virus has caused over 700 dolphins on the east coast to wash up on shore dead. The virus appears to be similar to the measles virus that is known to attack humans and the organism responsible is called the morbillivirus.
Scientists believe that even though over 700 have washed up on shore throughout the last few months, the death toll is likely much higher.
“It is expected that the confirmed mortalities will be higher,” said Teri Rowles, program coordinator of the NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program. “If this plays out similar to the ’87-88 die-off, we are less than halfway through that time frame.”
The virus can cause pneumonia and breathing problems and will eventually lead to brain infections. The illness cannot be passed to humans from the dolphins like certain other viruses or bacterial infections.
Dolphins are not the only ocean animals that have tested positive for the virus or washed up along the east coast. Several species of whales have also washed up on shore and tested positive for the virus. Many scientists believe that the virus may have been transferred to the dolphins from another animals, such as a whale.
“So we know we had a susceptible population, but just being susceptible alone is not how the outbreaks go,” said Rowes. “We are trying to understand where this virus came from and how it got into the population in which it is now circulating.”
Scientists will continue to test dolphins and other sea creatures that wash up on shore to determine if the virus caused their death and to learn for about it.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.