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Scientists: Disease To Blame For Massive Dolphin Die-Off

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — An unprecedented crisis along the East Coast: dolphins dying by the hundreds. A new report shows the die-off is now the worst in history. It’s caused by a virus similar to measles with no cure and no vaccine.

Kai Jackson has more on the epidemic sweeping the mid-Atlantic.

Scientists are learning valuable information, but it’s unclear how they’ll be able to apply it and help the dolphins.

An epidemic has killed bottlenose dolphins from New York to Florida. It includes dolphins that have died in Maryland. Scientists determined the morbillivirus, equivalent to measles in humans, has been responsible for killing nearly 800 dolphins since July.

“These animals, dolphins, carry the virus in their system,” said Maggie Mooney-Seus, NOAA.

Now scientists say this outbreak is the most unprecedented stranding and die-off in their recorded history. The last major die-off occurred between 1987 and 1988 but experts say in 2013 alone, 753 bottlenose dolphins died. That exceeds the die-off in the 1980s.

“This really is an unprecedented event in the large numbers that are occurring and in such a quick time frame since July 1,” said Jennifer Dittmer, National Aquarium.

Experts say even though they know what’s killing the bottlenose dolphins, right now there doesn’t appear to be anything they can do to stop it from spreading.

“It’s not like it’s a controlled terrestrial population where we have easy access to the animals. These are just free-roaming. They travel large distances so it’s very difficult to near impossible to try and vaccinate these animals against this virus,” Dittmer said.

And now scientists are investigating whether humpback and pygmy sperm whales have also been infected with the morbillivirus.

“Humpback whales are endangered so this could potentially have an effect on their population,” Dittmer said.

Although the morbillivirus can occur naturally in dolphins, scientists are trying to understand why this strain has been so deadly.

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