What’s happening to the dolphins?

23 04 2014

I am saved this week! I had been trying to come up with a blog post for you all, but in my current frenzy of grading exams, presentations and projects in these waning weeks of the semester, I was feeling rather swamped. Luckily, our new and enthusiastic assistant (and now guest blogger), Marissa Jenko, rode to my rescue with this post! Enjoy, Seanetters, and welcome Marissa to the blogosphere!

A stranded dolphin in New Jersey.

A stranded dolphin in New Jersey. (photo: Marine Mammal Stranding Center)

“Every now and then, a Seanetter will discover something other than a bird carcass during his or her beach walk. Since the summer of 2013, a large number of bottlenose dolphins have been showing up on beaches along the east coast. What is behind all of these dolphin strandings?
An Unusual Mortality Event (UME) has been declared for bottlenose dolphins on the east coast because of a deadly outbreak of cetacean morbillivirus. Different species of morbillivirus can cause measles in humans, canine distemper in dogs, and rinderpest in cattle. Cetacean morbillivirus infects dolphins, porpoises, and whales and causes pneumonia and respiratory issues, skin lesions, and brain infections. It is passed between individuals through respiratory particles in the water and direct contact (as we know, dolphins are very affectionate!).
Since July 2013, over 1,200 dolphin carcasses of all ages have been sighted and reported on beaches along the east coast. Of these 1,200, 209 dolphins have been tested for morbillivirus, with 200 testing positive or suspect positive. The investigation into this outbreak is ongoing and other possible factors such as different pathogens or biotoxins are being looked at as well.

annual_strandings_graph

source: NOAA

 

Increased mortality was generalized up and down the coast

Increased mortality was generalized up and down the coast. (source: NOAA)

While cetacean morbillivirus is not currently known to infect humans or dogs, other species of morbillivirus can. If anyone comes across a stranded dolphin during his or her walks, do not touch or approach it and keep pets away from the animal! Report the sighting to your local marine mammal stranding network.
Investigating UMEs are important, as they give insight into larger ocean health issues that may also affect human health (just like Seanet!). If you are ever in doubt as to whether or not to report any animal sightings, never hesitate to ask!”

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