NOAA investigators said Tuesday a measles-like virus is likely to be blamed for a massive bottle-nose dolphin die-off along the Mid-Atlantic coast.
Since mid-July, more than 300 bottle-nose dolphins have been found dead on coasts between New York and North Carolina, nine times the historical average for the months of July and August in the region, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
On Aug. 8, NOAA Fisheries officially declared the situation an “unusual mortality event,” and samples were then collected and analyzed to see if there is any relationship between all the stranded pods.
“After completing initial diagnostic tests on more than two dozen animals from all affected states and consulting with disease experts, we have determined that the likely primary cause of this event is a virus — the cetacean morbillivirus, which is similar to measles in humans or canine distemper in dogs,” the NOAA said in a statement.
According to the NOAA, 11 of the 32 dolphins tested are confirmed positive for morbillivirus, with all of the remaining dolphins suspected of having the fatal infection.
The agency said that morbillivirus, usually spreading through the air or direct contact between animals, affects the lungs, brain and immune system of dolphins and causes illness and death.
While this virus can easily spread among dolphin populations since the animals are highly social, it is not infectious to humans, the NOAA said.
But the NOAA said there is little they can do to curb the outbreak.
“Unfortunately, there is no way to currently stop the spread of the virus. There are no vaccines or anti-viral medications available to administer to wild dolphin populations in an effective or practical manner,” the NOAA said.
There was a similar outbreak of morbillivirus along the Mid- Atlantic, involving more than 740 bottle-nose dolphin deaths between June 1987 and March 1988.