Friday, August 2, 2013

Is a Virus Killing Chesapeake Dolphins?

"We've had a steady number coming in at the beginning of the summer, and starting last week, the numbers spiked," said Susan Barco, research coordinator for the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center. "We're just trying to keep our head above water."

The deaths peaked in July, according to the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team, and the number of dead dolphins is something that hasn't been seen since 1987, when more than 750 carcasses washed ashore from New Jersey to Florida. The mass deaths lasted 18 months.

A few years later, morbillivirus - similar to measles - was determined to be the culprit, as dolphins exhibited symptoms associated with measles and pneumonia.
Morbillivirus is the same group of virus that includes human measles and canine distemper, both diseases capable of serious illness and death in their hosts.
"We haven't seen any physical trauma that would indicate entanglements or sonar damage to the ear," Barco said.

In the past, the use of midfrequency naval sonar has been linked to dolphin and whale deaths. But Ted Brown, a spokesman for the Navy's Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, said "there has been no change or increase in sonar use that could be related" to the recent surge.
That's good news, I guess, although it would be nice if there were something we could do about it.  I don't see the dolphins lining up to get morbillivirus shots, even assuming we would bother to make a vaccine.
Delaware and Maryland have also seen a recent uptick in dolphin deaths. According to The Press of Atlantic City, 10 dead dolphins were picked up in Delaware between June and early July, when in a typical year only five or six are recorded. In Maryland - although a spike has been noticed - the numbers of dead dolphins were unknown, according to The Press.

NOAA has sent inquiries to stranding centers along the East Coast to determine whether spikes have been seen elsewhere. In New Jersey, initial necropsy results have pointed to pneumonia, but Maggie Mooney-Seus, spokeswoman for NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, was not ready to connect Virginia's die-off to what may be affecting dolphins in other states.
Dolphins have been spotted well up into the Bay again this year.  Two weeks ago our neighbors spotted dolphins from the beach, although I haven't had the pleasure yet.  I would hope that no sick or dead dolphins wash up here.

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