Over 120 dolphin corpses have washed on shore so far this summer—seven times the normal amount. Experts say that the number of dead bottlenose dolphins is "very alarming." The strandlings have appeared on shore between New York and Virginia starting in July and increasing over the past two weeks. In Virginia, 64 animals have been found.
One of the dolphins tested positive for morbillivirus, which is an airborne virus similar to the measles. Morbillivirus is usually fatal for dolphins, causing an epidemic among the dolphin population on the East Coast in 1987 and 1988. There is no confirmation that another morbillivirus epidemic has started, and scientists are testing for other viruses and diseases as well.
A marine mammal biologist for NOAA, Trevor Spradlin, said that these dolphin deaths could be a warning sign of major problems within the ocean. He told The National Geographic, "Marine mammals are like the canary in the coal mine."
Experts also report that dolphins might be susceptible to disease because of the toxicity they encounter on a daily basis. An expert studying bottlenose dolphins reports that they can have toxic mercury levels at 20 times the amount permitted in human food. The scientist, Gregory Bossart, says exposure to toxins gives these dolphins a "profoundly" suppressed immune system. The Gulf of Mexico has had a long-running case of dolphins dying, with over 1000 dolphins and whales washing onto their shores since February 2010.
[image via AP]