NOAA Fisheries has named the morbillivirus as the preliminary cause of the dolphin deaths. The morbillivirus is a highly infectious measles-like virus that was responsible for the break out of dolphin deaths in 1987-1988.
Of the 33 they’ve tested, 32 are suspect or confirmed positive for morbillivirus.
Scientists say it’s likely that the dolphins no longer have immunity to the virus and at this point, there’s nothing they can do to stop it.
“We don’t have a vaccine that is developed that can be easily deployed in a wild population of bottlenose dolphins,” they say.
They can’t say for certain when it will end, but believe if it follows what happened in the outbreak in ’87, then this will continue until the spring of 2014.
The unprecedented number of dead dolphins washing ashore in Virginia just keeps growing, with this weekend seeing more than any other.
28 dolphins were found over the weekend, everywhere from Mathews County to the Virginia Beach Oceanfront and Back Bay.
“The dolphins were really coming in everywhere. It was a very busy weekend; the busiest so far,” said Mark Swingle, Director of Research and Conservation for the Virginia Aquarium.
The total for the year in Virginia now stands at 216, more than three times the average.
“These are really unprecedented numbers that are coming offshore,” said Swingle.
Until now they have all been Bottlenose dolphins, but two over the weekend were Common dolphins. Researchers can’t say yet if their deaths are related.
With so many dolphins dying in such a widespread area, Swingle says it's most likely a disease process that's killing them.
That’s what happened in 1987 when huge numbers of dolphins died, but they're still waiting on test results. They expect to get some results this week.
For now, researchers continue to perform necropsies, and some of the dolphins found recently could be especially useful to researchers.
A few were still alive when they were found this weekend and either died shortly after or had to be euthanized. Swingle says those are the most valuable because they can provide the best quality tissue samples.