Culprit in Dolphin Deaths IDed

But scientists can't do much to halt measles-like virus' spread

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Aug 27, 2013 3:39 PM CDT

(Newser) – The good news is that scientists now think they know why so many dead dolphins are washing up on shores along the East Coast—it's a virus akin to measles, reports Wired. The bad news is that they can't do anything but let it run its course. So far, about 330 dolphins have washed up, mostly in Virginia, a figure 10 times higher than normal. (And, of course, hundreds, perhaps thousands, more likely never reached shore.) A similar outbreak of this morbillivirus in 1987-88 caused 800 dead dolphins to wash ashore, and if the new outbreak follows the same pattern, the virus will probably remain in play until next spring. It's expected to move south along the Atlantic Seaboard.

“At this point, there isn’t anything we can do to stop the virus,” says an official with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "We don’t have a vaccine that is developed that could be easily deployed in a wild population of bottlenose dolphins.” The dolphins probably lost their immunity since the last outbreak, a vet tells NBC News. It's not clear how the outbreak started, but scientists figure the coastal dolphins picked up the virus from some other marine mammal. It's all but impossible this strain could spread to humans, notes ABC News.

Virginia Aquarium workers carry a deceased male dolphin on a stretcher from Ocean View Beach in Norfolk on Aug. 1.
Virginia Aquarium workers carry a deceased male dolphin on a stretcher from Ocean View Beach in Norfolk on Aug. 1.   (AP Photo/The Virginian-Pilot, Dorothy Edwards)
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