WASHINGTON – The deadliest known outbreak of a measleslike virus in bottlenose dolphins has killed a record number of the mammals along the U.S. Atlantic coast since July, officials said Friday.
A total of 753 bottlenose dolphins have washed up from New York to Florida from July 1 until Nov. 3, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. That is more than 10 times the number of dolphins that would typically turn up dead along East Coast beaches, said Teri Rowles, program coordinator of the NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program.
“Historic averages for this same time frame, same geographic area is only 74, so you get an idea of the scope,” she told reporters.
The toll is also higher than the more than 740 strandings in the last major Atlantic morbillivirus outbreak in 1987-1988.
And they have come in a much shorter time period, leading officials to anticipate this event could get much worse.
“It is expected that the confirmed mortalities will be higher,” Rowles said. “If this plays out similar to the ’87-88 die-off, we are less than halfway through that time frame.”
The cause of death is morbillivirus, a form of marine mammal measles that can cause pneumonia, suppressed immune function and brain infections.