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Statement by Dr. Teri Rowles, NOAA Fisheries on UME Cause

August 27, 2013

Statement by Dr. Teri Rowles, D.V.M., Ph.D.

Coordinator, Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program

NOAA Fisheries Service

Today, we announced that based upon preliminary diagnostic testing and discussions with disease experts there is an outbreak of morbillivirus in bottlenose dolphins along the Atlantic coast from NY to VA, and possibly extending southward into NC.  Cetacean morbiliviruses may affect the lungs, brain and immune system of dolphins causing illness and death, and are from the same family of viruses that cause measles in humans or distemper in dogs. There are no reported cases of human infection with cetacean morbillivirus and it is not believed to be infectious to humans. Other whales, dolphins and porpoises may be at risk to this virus but we do not at this time know if other species are involved.

Unfortunately, there is not much we can do to prevent dolphins from being infected with this virus, since vaccinating a wild population of free swimming dolphins is not currently possible.  We will have to let this outbreak run its course. What we will be doing is continuing sample collections from stranded dolphins and targeting response efforts in order to provide humane care to live animals.  Continuing to collect scientific information will allow us to better understand the virus, the outbreak, and investigate whether other factors, environmental or human-caused, may be making dolphins more susceptible to the spread of the virus. We will also be evaluating which populations of bottlenose dolphins are affected and what the possible impacts will be (e.g., mortality rates).  We will continue to monitor dolphin populations and strandings south of the current event over the upcoming autumn, winter and spring months to determine the extent of the outbreak (both in time and space).

Members of the public can help by reporting injured, dead, or stranded marine mammals to our stranding network hotlines:  For the Northeast, please call 1-866-755-6622; for the Southeast, please call 1-877-WHALE HELP (1-877-942-5343).  In addition, the public can help by keeping a safe distance from dolphins, or any other marine mammal, when they encounter them on the beach or in the water, and it is important to keep pets away.  You can also help by supporting your local marine mammal stranding response team, and a list of authorized organizations can be found on our website at:

http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/stranding.htm.