There may be little comfort in it, but at least theres an explanation emerging for the alarming deaths of at least 291 bottlenose dolphins along the Mid Atlantic coast this summera death rate more than nine times the historical average.
Researchers from the Fisheries Service, part of the National Oceanographic And Atmospheric Administration, say the likely primary cause is like a dolphin form of measles called cetacean morbillivirus.
Viruses like this are usually spread through direct contact between animals, and can affect the lungs, brain and immune systems of dolphins, opening them to secondary infections that are sometimes the immediate cause of death. (It isnt transmissible from dolphin to human.)
Not surprisingly, there is no effective or practical way to administer vaccines or anti-viral medications to wild dolphins, according to NOAA, so theres not much researchers can do but stand by and document the epidemic, and study factors that may have made this population of migratory dolphins vulnerable to disease.
A similar outbreak occurred in 1987 and 1988, affecting about half of the Mid Atlantic stock of migratory bottlenose dolphins.
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, said Dr. Teri Rowles, coordinator of NOAAs Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program.
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