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The U.S. East Coast has seen a mass dolphin die-off this summer and now the deaths are being linked to a measles-like virus.
According to Wired, over 300 dolphins carcasses have washed up on beaches from New York to North Carolina since July 1. That number is 10 times higher than normal. Scientists are not sure how many dolphins have died this summer, but figure the number could be in the thousands.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared the issue an Unusual Mortality Event, which allows the government to free up funding and investigators to look into the issue.
One NOAA investigative team claims the die-off among bottlenose dolphins is the result of a morbillivirus, which causes measles in humans and distemper in canines.
The morbillivirus was the cause of a die-off that occurred between 1987 and 1988 that saw over 700 dolphins die, CBS News reports.
Dr. Teri Rowles of NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program said, “We are no calling this a morbillivirus outbreak confirmed from New York to Virgina.”
Rowles believes age has been a factor in the outbreak, noting, “Many of the dolphins younger than 26 years old have limited to no immunity to this virus.” The dolphins lack the proper antibodies to fight the morbillivirus, since they were born after the last outbreak.
University of Georgia’s Dr. Jerry Saliki believes in time that “the number of immune animals will increase, gets to the point that will mimic natural vaccination.” The outbreak “peters out” from there.
image: Wikimedia Commons