Scientists monitor local dolphins for deadly virus

Author: Nicole Papageorge

COLLIER COUNTY, Fla.- A deadly virus killing dolphins on the east coast may now be in the Gulf of Mexico. Just this week, scientists discovered the virus in a dolphin in the Florida Keys. Now, they’re monitoring the outbreak locally.

Naples mom, Rebecca Neely says there’s nothing better to her than sitting in her beach chair, feeling the warmth of the sun on her face while watching the incredible wildlife all around her.

“When the dolphins are out there playing people were just running down to take pictures and everything else,” said Neely.

Yes, dolphins are a fan favorite. But, the beautiful, playful creatures are dying along the Atlantic seaboard and scientists don’t know how to stop it. Researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say more than 1,500 dolphins have died from the morbillivirus since July of 2013. This week, a dolphin in the Keys tested positive for the virus and now the entire Gulf Coast of Florida is considered a surveillance area for the outbreak.

Scientists are trying to figure out where it started and how to stop it. They first detected the virus in the late 1980s, but they don’t know if its caused by humans or environmental issues.

What they do know is morbillivirus is similar to measles in people and distemper in dogs. It can leave lesions on the skin and affects the brain, lung and immune system. Its spread mainly through the dolphins’ blowholes and from mothers to calves. Scientists with N.O.AA say there’s no vaccine, leaving the adorable mammals to fend for themselves.

“It’s really sad,” said Neely. “I hope they figure it out.”

Scientists tell WINK News, the virus cannot be passed to humans.

If you find a dolphin that’s sick, don’t touch it and report the stranding by calling 877-WHALE-HELP. You can also report it by downloading the dolphin and whale 911 app on your phone.

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