Tag Archives: browntide

2013’s “Unusual Mortality Event,” now a 2014 Morbillivirus Outbreak, the Ailing Dolphins of the Indian River Lagoon

Bottle nosed dolphin photograph. (Photo courtesy of  Oxstyletech, public photos.)
Bottle nosed dolphin photograph. Prior to 2013, HBOI reported there to be between 800-1000 bottle nosed dolphin in the IRL. (Photo courtesy of Oxstyletech, public photos.)

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.

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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/)

What Exactly is Bioluminescence in the Indian River Lagoon? Is it a Good or Bad Sign?

bioluminescence
“The dinoflagellate, (marine plankton), Pyodinium bahamense is what “produces the light show in the IRL.” Photo credit: https://getupandgokayaking.com

About a week and a half ago, my mother sent me an email with photos of my father and her on a kayak trip at night in the Indian River Lagoon. She had seen an article in the Stuart News about a company called Motorized Kayaks of the Treasure Coast and their trip into the light show of bioluminescence that has been occurring off our shores.

First, I thought about how cool my parents are to be going on kayak trips in their mid- seventies, and second, I thought, “aren’t these little plankton creatures a kind of algae bloom, and aren’t algae blooms bad for the lagoon in spite of bioluminescence’s beauty?”

Algae blooms have been linked to recent 60% plus seagrass die-offs, poor water quality, as well as  IRL pelican, dolphin and manatee deaths.  Super blooms, brown tides, “regular” and “toxic” algae blooms are “fed” by fertilizer, septic effluent, canal and Lake Okeechobee discharges, especially in the southern lagoon.

[caption id="attachment_2989" align="alignnone" width="300"]My father, Tom Thurlow, preparing for a kayak trip into the Indian River Lagoon to view the bioluminescent light show. (Photo Sandra Thurlow, August, 2014) My father, Tom Thurlow, preparing for a kayak trip into the Indian River Lagoon to view the bioluminescent light show. (Photo Sandra Thurlow, August 19, 2014)

Well anyway, I decided to contact Dr. Edie Widder of ORCA, the Ocean Research and Conservation Association, in Ft. Pierce, (http://www.teamorca.org/cfiles/home.cfm) and ask.

Dr Widder  is a world-renowned bioluminescence expert; she has even worked with the US Navy in the “design” of ships that would not cause bioluminescent disruption in the oceans, and thus give away their location to enemy ships.

This was my question to Dr Widder:

Dear Edie,
My parents rented kayaks to go see the bioluminescence in the IRL. It got me
thinking. Is the light caused by the same creatures that cause toxic algae
blooms in the lagoon?
Is the bioluminescence a bad sign for the health of the lagoon? Thank you.
Hope all is well.

Her response:

Hi Jacqui – It’s kind of a good news bad news story. The dinoflagellate
producing the light show, Pyrodinium bahamense, happens to be one that
produces saxitoxin. Interestingly it’s the same dino that’s responsible for
the bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico and in those bays it doesn’t produce
the saxitoxin. Here it does. It’s not known why although I have a theory
and it has nothing to do with pollution. (It’s a long story having to do
with how their bioluminescence functions to protect them from predators
under different concentrations.)

Dino blooms are usually preceded by rain events that flush nutrients into
the water and then a series of calm sunny days that promote photosynthesis.
Blooms like the one we’re seeing now used to be routine according to some of
the older fishermen I’ve talked to. They called it fire in the water. The
fact is the water can’t be too polluted or the dinoflagellates won’t grow.
I’ll send you an article with some pictures I took.

Cheers,

Edie

Here is a photo Dr Widder took of bioluminescence in the lagoon I copied and a link to a remarkable video.

Bioluminescence in the IRL photographed by Dr Edie Widder.
Bioluminescence in the IRL photographed by Dr Edie Widder.

Incredible pictures of barnacles feeding on bioluminescent dinoflagellates: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1jG8qFZyYY)

Thank you for sharing, Dr Widder!

In conclusion, I looked up saxitoxin and learned it is a “paralytic shellfish toxin” that is found is some shellfish and especially puffer fish. It has been found in few other places in the US as well as in  the Indian River Lagoon. I guess the little dinoflagellates, the same ones that make the pretty bioluminescence light,  not always, but sometimes, will produce this toxin which gets spread to some shellfish and some fish. If such a shellfish or fish is ingested,  it will make a human very sick.  Around 2002, 28 people got so sick here, in the Merritt Island area, and in a few other areas of the county, that now there is a permanent government ban on harvesting/eating IRL puffer fish in the entire IRL.

Since I am nowhere close to a scientist, I will just share some links below and refrain from speculating what is “good or bad. ” Nonetheless, I think I can safely say that sometimes beauty and danger walk hand in hand in this magical world of our Indian River Lagoon.

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Abstract, Saxitoxin in the IRL, US Food and Drug Administration: (http://www.researchgate.net/publication/250019725_Concentrations_of_Saxitoxin_and_Tetrodotoxin_in_Three_Species_of_Puffers_from_the_Indian_River_Lagoon_Florida_the_Location_for_Multiple_Cases_of_Saxitoxin_Puffer_Poisoning_from_2002_to_2004Sincerely)

Monitoring Toxic Algae and Shellfish in the IRL, FWC, (http://myfwc.com/research/redtide/monitoring/current/indian-river/)

Florida Today: Is the IRL OK for Play? http://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/local/environment/2014/06/14/indian-river-lagoon-ok-play/10527607/)

Dinoflagellate: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinoflagellate)