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Bottlenose dolphin mortality along the east coast of the United States is nine times higher than average and – according to NOAA – may be attributed to the same disease that sends people to the hospital every year: measles. All told, from North Carolina to New York City, nearly 500 dolphins have been found stranded on beaches this year when normally that number hovers around 150. Many of the dolphins found had lesions on their bodies, an indicator for cetacean morbillivirus, as dolphin measles is known.

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Cetacean morbillivirus is a virus in the same family as the human measles virus and was first found in dolphins in the late 1980s. Since then, there has been one other large dolphin die-off, in 1987, when over 700 dolphins died from the virus. Dolphin measles spreads much like human measles, including through direct contact and inhalation of respiratory particles. However, unlike human measles, there is no vaccine for the dolphin disease.

Experts have evaluated about 27 dolphins and every one tested positive for the virus, which has resulted in the morbillivirus tentatively being blamed for the die-off, but scientists continue to investigate. If measles is to blame, researchers will also look for the cause of the outbreak, which could range from environmental factors – like the algae bloom of 1987, which may have contributed to that outbreak – or natural waves of immunity among dolphin populations.

via Huffington Post