Tue., December 31, 2013 10:30am (EST)

East Coast Dolphin Virus Hits Georgia
By Orlando Montoya
Updated: 4 months ago

SAVANNAH, Ga.  —  
A virus is killing bottlenose dolphins along the East Coast.  (photo Pete Markham)
A virus is killing bottlenose dolphins along the East Coast. (photo Pete Markham)
A state biologist says at least 37 dolphins have died along Georgia's coast since mid-November.

Dolphins are washing up dead all along the East Coast because of a suspected measles-like virus called dolphin morbillivirus. The deaths over the last several weeks have already added up to more than what usually occurs in an entire year.

Officials say the virus started in the mid-Atlantic states and moved south with the dolphins' winter migration. However, the deaths appear limited to migrating dolphins and not the ones that live in Georgia year round.

Clay George is a biologist with the Coastal Resources Division.

He says scientists can identify Georgia dolphins by their unique fins.

"When we find a dead dolphin, we take a photograph of its dorsal fin and see if there are any matches between these different researchers' catalogs," George says. "And so far, we haven't found any matches."

George says if the virus spreads to the local dolphin population, the results could be magnified since only a few hundred local dolphins live in each sound.

"We believe it's moved south as the dolphins have migrated," George says. "And one of the questions we want to understand is if the local resident dolphins will be impacted as well."

The virus does not affect humans.