A little while ago, I blogged on how dolphins had been washing up dead on many parts of the East Coast, including lower Chesapeake Bay. At the time, it was speculated that the cause was thought to be a virus of a type known as a morbillivirus, in the same family that causes measles in humans and distemper in canines and other animals.
It turns out to have been the culprit:
"We are now calling it a morbillivirus outbreak," Teri Rowles of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program said during a telephone press briefing on Tuesday. As of Monday, 333 animals have died on coasts between New York and North Carolina.And the last is a key; there's really nothing people can do about it. The dolphins will die of it until they don't anymore, just like in the good old days of human epidemics, before antibiotics, and vaccinations.
Morbillivirus belongs to a family of RNA viruses that cause rinderpest in cattle, distemper in canine species, and measles in humans. In dolphins, the virus suppresses the immune system, so researchers are seeing "animals that are very thin, animals that have a lot of other diseases and infections," Rowles said.
Between now and then, there's not much researchers can do to stop the spread of the virus — logistics stand in the way of research vessels going after wild dolphin herds with vaccines.