NOAA: Bottlenose dolphin die-off reaches Florida

Members of the Riverhead Foundation prepare to remove Members of the Riverhead Foundation prepare to remove a dolphin that washed up on shore at Jones Beach. (July 9, 2013) Photo Credit: Jim Staubitser

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As bottlenose dolphins migrate south, the die-off of these mammals that was first reported in the summer continues and has reached Florida, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Friday.

The die-off strandings have been linked to the cetacean morbillivirus, which can kill marine mammals but is not harmful to humans, NOAA officials said.

From July 1 to Nov. 3, there have been 753 bottlenose deaths from New York to South Carolina, with 74 considered the norm for that area and time range, said Teri Rowles, who is heading NOAA's response to the strandings.

There have been 34 bottleneck strandings in New York from July 1 to Nov. 4, compared to the norm of four for that time period, said Allison Garrett, NOAA spokeswoman.

As of Nov. 4, 116 out of 127 dolphins have been confirmed positive or suspected positive for the virus, NOAA said. Of the four tested animals found in New York, three were confirmed positive and one suspected positive, NOAA said.

Regarding other species being tested, the virus also has been confirmed in a tiny sample of humpback whales and pygmy sperm whales, but there's no confirmation that it's causing disease, Rowles said.

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Though the virus itself doesn't harm people, it does suppress dolphins' immune systems. That could allow the animals to become infected with "bacterial or fungal pathogens" that could lead to disease in humans, she said.

Residents who come across a stranded dolphin are asked not to push it back out to sea, as that prolongs the animal's suffering and can further spread the virus, she said.

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