The recent discovery of a dead whale on a popular New Jersey beach has sparked fears that the illness behind last year’s mass dolphin die-off could be infecting other animals.
A dead minke whale was found washed up on an Atlantic City beach May. While the discovery of graffiti sprayed on its carcass sparked outrage, officials say they discovered something else about the animal that’s even more disturbing.
“It did test positive for morbilli,” said Bob Schoelkopf, the founding director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center.
The Morbillivirus is the same ailment behind the deaths of 135 dolphins at the Jersey Shore last year and around 1,300 along the entire east coast.
“It’s not really what you would find in large whales,” Schoelkopf said. “At least, we didn’t think you would.”
Despite this, at least three humpbacks and two pygmy whales that died last year along the east coast also tested positive for Morbillivirus.
“It’s making us concerned that there may be something going on,” Schoelkopf said.
Schoelkopf says officials are currently awaiting test results on two bottlenose dolphins that recently washed up dead.
After a large dolphin die-off in the late 80s, there was no re-occurrence of the measles-like virus responsible for their deaths the following year. Experts say that may not be the case this summer.
“Our concern is that if it comes in contact with a large number of either common dolphins or the off-shore bottlenose, this could be even worse than last year,” Schoelkopf said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”
If you notice a dead animal on the beach, call the Marine Mammal Stranding Center immediately.