A previously unknown virus was found in the Hawaiian dolphin. Scientists fear the virus could trigger a major outbreak in marine mammals.
Scientists performed an autopsy on a dead Hawaiian dolphin washed ashore and discovered a new virus
Scientists from the University of Hawaii at Manoa performed an autopsy of a Fraser dolphin (Lagenodelphis Hosei) that was washed ashore in Maui in 2018, according to a study published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. The body of the young male was in good shape, but his organs and cells showed signs of illness. Genetic analysis revealed the culprit: "a new and very divergent strain of morbillivirus," which scientists "did not know about before."
Morbilloviruses are a wide genus of viruses that cause measles in humans, plague in dogs and cats, and rinderpest. Cetacean morbilloviruses are harmless to humans, but they can seriously harm cetacean populations. In 2013, two strains of morbillivirus were found in dolphins in the South Pacific. This resulted in the deaths of at least 50 dolphins in Western Australia and more than 200 dolphins in Brazil.
The new cetacean morbillivirus has so far been found in only one dolphin. However, scientists can track less than 5% of cetaceans killed in Hawaii's waters, so the extent of the problem remains unclear.
Fraser's dolphins are extremely sociable and friendly. They often mingle with other dolphins and whales. This means that the pathogen can spread all over the world.
The study authors are concerned and say that wildlife managers and environmentalists need to be on the alert.