Virginia Beach, Va. – A virus is believed to be what is causing large numbers of bottlenose dolphins to die along the East Coast.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is investigating the deaths, shared its preliminary findings Tuesday. Testing points to cetacean morbillivirus as the cause.
Of the 33 dolphins tested, 32 are either suspected or confirmed cases of morbillivirus.
333 dolphins have washed ashore since July 1, from New York to North Carolina. Most are being found in Virginia.
The virus is the same one that caused more than 740 dolphins to die in 1987 and 1988.
Scientists say the reason for the new outbreak is likely because these dolphins no longer have immunity to the virus.
There’s nothing that can be done to stop it.
They’re not sure how long the outbreak will last, but if history repeats itself, dolphin strandings will continue until spring of 2014.
Scientists say there is not a risk of the virus spreading to humans, but because it affects dolphins' immune system, they typically get other infections. Those could potentially be harmful to people. That’s why experts say people shouldn't touch stranded dolphins or swim with open wounds.
If you see a dolphin on the beach, call the Stranding Response 24-hour hotline at (757) 385-7575.