By now, just about everyone has heard that the beloved dolphins of the Indian River Lagoon are struggling with health issues exacerbated by poor water quality and compromised immune systems.
I wrote a blog on August 14, 2014 dealing with these issues. Today’s blog goes one step further as since one week, yet another sickness is being reported. It’s called “morbillivirus,” a deadly virus related to human measles and canine distemper in dogs.
At this point, it has only been reported in the northern central lagoon, mostly in the Brevard/Volusia areas.
Florida Today’s report on morbillivirus /IRL 8-29-14: (http://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/local/environment/2014/08/29/virus-deadly-dolphin-hits-lagoon/14826577/)
WESH: 9-2-14 report on morbillivirus IRL (http://m.wesh.com/news/scientists-baby-dolphin-likely-killed-by-virus-in-indian-river-lagoon/27843604)
Just to set the record straight, as all of this becomes very confusing, in 2012 and 2013, at the height of the northern central Indian River Lagoon’s crash and 60% of their seagrass die off, NOAA, a federal agency, declared two marine mammal UMEs or “Unusual Mortality Events,” for the area of the northern central lagoon.
The first was for manatees that were dying by the hundreds and the second was for IRL bottle nosed dolphins that were also dying at an alarming rate. In both instances the state and federal agencies declare the deaths a “mystery,” even though every second grader can figure out if 60% or more of your food source habitat has suddenly vanished and the waters of your home are toxic with an unpresidented “super bloom” and brown tide of often toxic algae, it just may kill you….
To pull back from my rant, so yes, in 2013, NOAA declared a UME for IRL bottle nosed dolphins in the IRL.
NOAA UME for 2013 bottle nosed dolphins:(http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/mmume/floridadolphins2013.html)
Sadly and ironically, almost simultaneously though slightly earlier, NOAA had declared another UME for the bottle nosed dolphins in the Atlantic Ocean along the eastern United States. This time thought, the agency knew that the mortality event was due to morbillivirus, sickness related to measles and canine distemper in dogs. (http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/27/health/noaa-dolphin-deaths/index.html) Many hundreds of ocean dolphins have died and therefore if an Atlantic bottle nosed dolphin beaches along the Atlantic Coast (Treasure Coast included) by law it must be euthanized so as not to spread the disease to other dolphins. Specifically here, dolphins of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
The two species are related but genetically distinct. Most IRL dolphins are thought to remain in the lagoon…
Unfortunately, about a week ago, as the first two links in this blog show, it was reported that the morbillivirus is now killing dolphins in the northern central lagoon. According to WESH 15 dolphins were found dead in August, 8 of those were determined to be caused by morbillivirus. As one would expect, the disease is killing dolphin calves.
I am no scientist but I am very interested in bottle nosed dolphins as I was a volunteer at Harbor Branch in the marine mammal department and one of my best friends, Nicole Mader works for the Dolphin Ecology Project and photo IDs all of the dolphins in the St Lucie River/Southern IRL.
I also have had the opportunity to meet and correspond with Dr Gregory Bossert who now works at the Georgia Aquarium and is one of the foremost scientist on documented sickness in the Indian River Lagoon.
Morbillivirus has hit the lagoon and Atlantic bottle nosed dolphins before. Dr Bossert when he worked at Harbor Branch, wrote a paper along with others studying the disease from 2003-2007 in Charleston, South Carolina and the IRL.
According to the paper:
“Between 1987 and 1988 an epizootic of morbillivirus infection characterized by widespread mortality occurred in bottle nosed dolphins along the eastern coast of the US. An estimated 2500 deaths occurred. Stranded dolphins were found along the cost adjacent to the IRL and inlets connecting the ocean to the estuary. In retrospect serological testing of archived samples indicates that morbillivius infections had been present in the IRL since at least 1982.”
The paper goes on to read:
“The most important finding in the study was the detection of antibodies against DMV and PMV in dolphins from the IRL in absence of an epizootic and typical morbillivirus associate pathologic lesions.”
Hopefully this means that some of the IRL dolphins may have an anti-body to help them fight this next wave of morbillivirus along the eastern coast that has now entered the Indian River Lagoon.
Florida Today article, The IRL, What went Wrong?(http://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/local/environment/lagoon/2014/05/03/indian-river-lagoon-went-wrong/8672245/)