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The Current Outbreak of a Dolphin-Killing Virus Is the Deadliest in History

Based on past disease events, researchers estimate that this current cycle of the outbreak is likely only at the half way point

Photo: NASA

From July 1 to November 3, researchers have recorded 753 dead dolphins up and down the coastline between New York and Virginia, Wired reports. The animals succumbed to a measles-like viral disease called morbillivirus, which has flared up in populations in years past. This time, however, it’s different. More than ten times as many dead dolphins have turned up compared to past averages, Yahoo reports, setting a record for deaths based on known past events.

The number of bodies has already exceeded the body count from the worst known historical outbreak, Yahoo says. A similar outbreak began in 1987 and lasted eleven months. During that time, researchers tallied 740 known mortalities. While current numbers are comparable, researchers estimate, based on past outbreaks, that this current cycle of the disease is likely only at the halfway point. That means many more dolphins could die in the coming months. 

Dolphins have just begun their southerly migrations to warmer wintering waters and, not surprisingly, the first corpse washed up in Florida last week. Dolphin experts in Florida are readying themselves for more deaths by ordering additional supplies (dolphins that wash up often have to be euthanized, and they need to be removed from the beach), Wired writes, although at this point they have no idea what to expect as far as numbers go. “We’ve done what we can do,” one expert told Wired. “Now we just wait and see.”

More from Smithsonian.com:

Who’s Murdering and Mutilating These Dolphins? 
Oil Spill Finally Confirmed as Culprit in Dolphin Deaths 

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