New contagious virus detected in Hawaii dolphins

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A novel strain of morbillivirus, a deadly marine mammal virus, has been detected in a Fraser’s dolphin in Hawaii sparking fears of an outbreak around the Pacific island.

Report informs, citing Daily Mail, that a team from UH Mānoa’s Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology identified the virus in a male juvenile that became stranded on Maui on January 17, 2018, but the diagnosis was only recently determined.

The morbillivirus, which impacts dolphins and whales, is highly contagious and causes debilitation, severe pneumonia and inflammation of the brain.

Although it is found around the world, morbillivirus is most prevalent in the Atlantic Ocean, according to Science Direct.

When the male Fraser’s dolphin washed ashore in 2018, biologists were puzzled to what led to its death, as its body was in good condition, but its organs and cells showed signs of infection.

This research identifies morbillivirus as a significant threat to other marine animals, because Fraser’s dolphins are highly social and tend to interact closely with other dolphins and whales in Hawaiian waters.

‘It’s also significant to us here in Hawaii because we have many other species of dolphins and whales—about 20 species that call Hawaii home—that may also be vulnerable to an outbreak from this virus,’ said UH Health and Stranding Lab Director Kristi West.

The next step in determining if this virus is circulating in the Central Pacific is to focus on antibody testing of Hawaiian dolphins and whales.