The measles-like virus killing hundreds of dolphins along the east coast of the United States has now spread to Florida.
According to NBC News, the morbillivirus which has already killed 753 cetaceans, is now showing up in Florida, where bottlenose dolphins are stranding on beaches dead or dying. Teri Rowles of the NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Stranding Response Program says that most of the dolphins are decomposed, making it difficult to study the virus in tissue samples.
Rowles adds, “There is no vaccine that can be deployed for a large bottlenose dolphin population or any cetacean species. Currently there is nothing that can be done to prevent the infection spreading, or prevent animals that get infected from having severe clinical disease.”
As the virus hits Florida, it has begun to infect whales as well. Three humpback whales and two pygmy whales who washed ashore tested positive for the morbillivirus, though researchers are still testing to determine whether or not it was the cause of death.
Rowles says that researchers are studying how much resident Florida bottlenose pods interact with migrating pods. 740 dolphins died between August 1987 and April 1988 in an “Unusual Mortality Event” according to the NOAA, a number that has already been surpassed by this dolphin die-off.
Common dolphins, spotted dolphins, and harp seals along the east coast have been tested and found not to have the virus.