The bottlenose dolphin die-off that began in July has been traveling steadily south with migrating Atlantic herds, and now diseased and dead dolphins are turning up in Florida. The culprit, a measles-like virus, has claimed 753 victims and counting, making this the worst outbreak ever recorded. Recently, the bug has also been spotted in two species of whale. 

Three humpback whales and two pygmy whales, stranded and decaying, tested positive for the dolphin morbillivirus, preliminary sequencing has confirmed. NOAA researchers are doing more tests to find out if it was the virus, usually rare in these animals, that killed them.

So far this year, nearly 1,000 bottlenose dolphins — eight times the historical average — have washed up dead along the Eastern Seaboard from New York to Florida, a vast majority of them victims of morbillivirus. Many more are expected to die from the disease in the coming months.

The high death toll from the resurgence of the virus, which killed 700 dolphins in an outbreak 25 years ago, has alarmed marine scientists, who say it remains unclear why the dolphins have succumbed to the disease. The deaths, along with a spate of other unrelated dolphin die-offs along Florida’s east and west coasts, raise new questions about the health of the ocean in this part of the country and what role environmental factors may be playing, scientists said.

This is kind of creepy.


Giovanni Di Guardo and Sandro Mazzariol

A powerful research effort is needed that pays special attention to the fact that few studies thus far have investigated the entire viral genome of the isolates that were recovered from Morbillivirus-infected cetaceans. In addition to the lack of a financially and ethically sustainable experimental model for the study of DMV infection in dolphins, the research activity in this area, and in general, on the pathology of free-ranging cetaceans is hampered by the advanced degree of post mortem autolysis in which their bodies are often found in after stranding.

In conclusion, while recognizing the long-standing ‘tradition’ and the outstanding value of the human MeV and dog CDV infection models, we believe that it is also important to characterize the virus- and host-specific factors that play a major role in the host–DMV interaction and the climate change-related drivers that influence the occurrence of cyclic DMV epidemics in the Mediterranean. This research topic is challenging and intriguing, and DMV-infected dolphins could potentially be valuable models for comparative neuropathology and viral neuropathogenesis……


Deadly Dolphin Virus Now Killing Whales

The measles-like virus that has killed hundreds of dolphins as it spread down the U.S. Atlantic coast over the past few months has now begun infecting whales.

The dolphin morbillivirus has killed more than 750 dolphins since June, when it first emerged off beaches from Long Island to Virginia.

The southward migration of the marine mammals since then has spread the disease all the way to Florida.

Resident Florida bottlenose dolphins are now at risk of catching the virus, which spreads through close contact.

And the U.S. environment agency NOAA says the virus is also the cause of death of two pygmy sperm whales and three humpback whales found dead or dying along the Atlantic coast.

The outbreak of the virus is the worst on record and has killed more than 10 times the number of dolphins that would normally turn up dead along the Atlantic seaboard during the period.

And wildlife officials say that if the current outbreak is anything like the previous record 1987-1988 die-off, it’s only halfway through, and fatalities will go much higher.


via Smithsonian science / photo courtesy NOAA

A rare Longman’s beaked whale (Indopacetus pacificus) found stranded on the Hawaiian island of Maui in 2010 has scientists in Hawaii on the alert for a deadly disease known as morbillivirus which can lead to high mortality rates in dolphins and other marine mammals. It is the first record of a Longman’s beaked whale in Hawaii, a marine mammal normally found in Indo-Pacific/Euro-Asian waters, and the first known instance of morbillivirus found there.

A team of scientists led by Kristi West of Hawaii Pacific University conducted a necropsy and analyses on the stranded whale which resulted in the discovery of the presence of the morbillivirus in its system. This is the same virus responsible for a mass die-off of bottlenose dolphins in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States in 1986 and 1987, says Charles Potter of the Marine Mammal Program at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

This week in ocean news...










Deadly dolphin virus shows up in Indian River Lagoon

A virus that has killed dolphins along the USA, East Coast over the past year or so has spread to central Florida’s Indian River Lagoon. 18 dead bottlenose dolphins were found in the area last month, 70 dolphins typically die in the lagoon region annually but so far this year, 67 dolphins have died there. Approx 660 bottlenose dolphins spend their lives almost exclusively in the lagoon area and some are showing signs of morbillivirus, such as skin and oral lesions. Those infected can appear skinny, swim erratically and make sounds as if they are coughing.

Photo: Rik Jesse, Florida Today