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Federal Officials Say Virus To Blame For Dolphin Deaths

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Dolphins are a common sight all along the East Coast, but hundreds have been found dead this year.
Chuck Allen: http://www.flickr.com/photos/7475921@N05/2723537458/
Dolphins are a common sight all along the East Coast, but hundreds have been found dead this year.

Federal officials say they know what's killing hundreds of bottlenose dolphins that have washed ashore along the coast of Virginia.

More than 300 dolphins, most dead or near death, have been found on the shore between New York and North Carolina since July. One-hundred seventy-four of those off the coast of Virginia alone—nine times the historic average for this region during July and August.

Now scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say they've identified the disease as Morbillivirus. The viral infection is spread through inhalation or direct contact between dolphins. NOAA's Dr. Terry Roll explains Morbillivirus is common amongst a broad range of mammals, including people.

"Humans have their own Morbillivirus which is measles, and you probably read about the outbreak in Texas, but this virus has never been shown to be infected to people and it is unlikely that it would ever happen," he says.

The scientists say right now there s nothing they can do to stop the virus. They expect the deaths could spread southward and last through spring 2014.

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