NOAA officials have finally discovered why over 330 dolphins have died from New York to Virginia – and it all has to do with a deadly cetacean morbillivirus.
Similar to measles in humans, this morbillivirus spreads from dolphin to dolphin through their breath or through close contact with other dolphins. The last time it happened with this degree of severity was from 1987-1988.
“About 50 percent of the coastal migratory bottlenose dolphin stock was affected, leading to the stock being classified as ‘depleted’ under the Marine Mammal Protection Act,” said Dr. Teri Rowles, coordinator of NOAA’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program. “So we are obviously very concerned this particular stock may be reduced even further, and we are committed to doing everything we can to better understand how the virus is affecting the population.”
Unfortunately, scientists say there’s very little they can do to stop the spread of the virus – and say more dolphin deaths will happen as the disease moves south. It won’t be until May that the situation may improve.
“There are no vaccines or anti-viral medications available to administer to wild dolphin populations in an effective or practical manner,” reads a statement posted on NOAA’s website. “However, what we can do is learn more about any other factors that could be making these animals more vulnerable to the spread of this disease and try to address and mitigate them to reduce additional stressors.”