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Experts: Virus Linked to Dolphin Deaths

  • Faith Lapidus

An Aug. 21, 2013 photo shows an identification tag for a dolphin that had died on the Spring Lake N.J. beach and was brought to the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, N.J. for examination.
Experts say the unusually high number of dolphin deaths along the U.S. east coast this summer is due to a measles-like virus.

More than 330 bottlenose dolphins have been found dead on Atlantic Ocean beaches from New York to North Carolina since the beginning of July. That is the highest number in a quarter century, and 10 times the average of deaths over that same period.

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration attribute the deaths to cetacean morbillivirus, which is related to the virus that causes measles in people. It weakens the animals' immune system, leaving them vulnerable to other diseases, including pneumonia.

The experts say there is nothing they can do to stop the spread of the virus, and say the outbreak could last until May of next year, as dolphins develop resistance to the virus. There is no indication that the virus can spread to humans.