Italy: 100 Dolphins in Measles epidemic, washed up dead along Italian coast – 230413 1155z

Scientists believe that more than 100 dolphins washed up dead along the Italian coast were struck down by a killer strain of measles.

(Photo: Striped Dolphin

A total of 101 dolphin carcasses have been counted on the west coast of Italy since the beginning of the year. All are the same species – striped dolphins which have a distinctive blue and white pattern and grow to about eight feet long. They usually live for 50 or 60 years. The bodies have appeared on beaches spanning more than half the western coastline of Italy, from Tuscany to Calabria, as well as the island of Sicily – which suggests that the problem is not caused by humans pollutants such as oil. Instead the deaths are being attributed to a possible outbreak of Morbillivirus, the virus that causes measles in humans, which scientists believe created a gateway for other illnesses among the animals.

(Image: The bodies have been found all along the Italian coast, from Tuscany in the north to Sicily in the south

Thirty-five per cent of the corpses tested positive for dolphin measles, Italy’s Ministry for the Environment said. A statement from the ministry read: ‘At the moment the suspected cause of the mass cetacean deaths is measles (morbillivirus delphini) and the bacterium Photobacterium damselae. ‘The deaths could be caused by food shortages which weaken the animal making them more easily exposed to diseases and parasites.’ A similar epidemic decimated Spanish dolphin populations between 2006 and 2008. The current strain has mostly affected young dolphins between the age of 15 and 20, who have not come across the disease before. Animals born after a 1990-92 epidemic are devoid of the antibodies needed to defend them against the disease, scientists said.

None of the dead dolphins had food in their stomachs, which suggests that they may have starved to death because the virus left them weakened. Overfishing which has left the Mediterranean with sparse reserves of dolphin prey could also be a factor, the government agency said. Striped dolphins feed on small prey including hake, cuttlefish, squid, mackerel and sole, all species subject to intensive fishing. The species is found in all the world’s tropical oceans. They are very sociable, travelling in large pods which can include hundreds of dolphins and are among the most acrobatic breeds. There are thought to be around two million striped dolphins in the world.


Morbillivirus is a type of virus that causes serious disease in several species of animals and in people. Distemper in dogs and rinderpest in cattle are caused by different morbilliviruses. Measles (rubeola) is a generally less severe morbillivirus-induced disease of people, although this morbillivirus caused many fatalities prior to the age of modern medicine. An important feature of morbillviruses is their ability to cause major epidemics when populations without immunity are exposed. A large proportion of the canine population died when canine distemper entered Europe 200 years ago. Rinderpest, otherwise known as the “cattle plague”, has caused epidemics of biblical proportions. Furthermore, one half to two thirds of the native population died when measles was introduced into various areas of the New World in the 1500s. There have been several major die-offs among marine mammals caused by morbilliviruses in recent years. Baikal seals in Lake Baikal (1987), harbor seals in northwestern Europe (1988), and striped dolphins in the Mediterranean Sea (1990) have all been affected by separate morbillivirus epidemics. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association recently implicated morbillivirus infection as the primary cause of the 1987-1988 U. S. Atlantic coast bottlenose dolphin die-off. In each of these events, thousands of animals are believed to have died.

Blixenkrone-Moller M., G. Bolt, E. Gottschalck and M. Kenter. 1994. Comparative analysis of the gene encoding the nucleocapsid protein of dolphin morbillivirus reveals its distinct evolutionary relationship to measles virus and ruminant morbilliviruses. Journal of General Virology 75:2829-2834.

Blixenkrone-Moller, M., G. Bolt, T. D. Jensen, T. Harder and V. Svansson. 1996. Comparative analysis of the attachment protein gene (H) of dolphin morbillivirus. Virus Research 40:47-56.

Domingo, M., L. Ferrer, M. Pumarola, A. Marco, J. Plana, S. Kennedy, M. McAliskey and B. K. Rima. 1990. Morbillivirus in dolphins. Nature 348:21.

Duignan, P. J., et. al. 1995a. Morbillivirus infection in two species of pilot whales (Globicephala sp.) from the western Atlantic. Marine Mammal Science 11:150- 162.

Duignan, P. J., et. al. 1995b. Morbillivirus infection in cetaceans of the western Atlantic. Veterinary Microbiology 44:241-249.

Duignan, P. J. et. al. 1996. Morbillivirus infection in the bottlenose dolphins: Evidence for recurrent epizootics in the western Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. Marine Mammal Science 12:499-515.

Kennedy, S., J. A. Smyth, P. F. Cush, M. McAliskey, D. Moffett, C. M. McNiven and M. Carole. 1992. Morbillivirus infection in two common porpoises (Phocoena phocoena ) from the coasts of England and Scotland. Veterinary Record 131:286- 290.

Kraft, A., J. H. Lichy, T. P. Lipscomb, B. A. Klaunberg, S. Kennedy and J. K. Taubenberger. 1995. Postmortem diagnosis of morbillivirus infection in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico epizootics by polymerase chain reaction-based assay. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 31:410-415.

Lipscomb, T. P., F. Y. Schulman, D. Moffett and S. Kennedy. 1994 a. Morbillivital disease in Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) from the Gulf of Mexico . Journal of Wildlife Diseases 30:567-571.

Osterhaus, A. D. M. E., I. K. G. Visser, R. L. deSwart, M-F. Van Bressem, M. W. G. Van de Bildt, C. Orvell, T. Barrett and J. A. Raga. 1992. Morbillivirus threat to Mediterranean monk seals? Veterinary Record 130:141-142.

Osterhaus, A. D. M. E., R. L. de Swart, H. W. Vos, P. S. Ross, M. J. H. Kenter and T. Barrett. 1995. Morbillivirus infection of aquatic mammals: Newly infected members of the genus. Veterinary Microbiology. 44:219-227.

Van Bressem, M-F., K. Van Qaerbeek, M. Flemming and T. Barrett. 1998. Serological evidence of morbillivirus infection in small cetaceans from the southeast Pacific. Veterinary Microbiology 2:89-98.

Van Bressem, M-F. and T. Barrett. 1998. Further insight on the epidemiology of the cetacean morbillivirus in the northeastern Atlantic. Marine Mammal Science 14(3):605-613.

Visser, I. K. G., et. al. 1993. Characterization of morbilliviruses isolated from dolphins and porpoises in Europe. Journal of General Virology 74:631-641.” – DOLPHIN RESEARCH CENTER, 58901 Overseas Highway, Grassy Key, FL 33050-6019

Tuesday, 23 April, 2013 at 03:04 (03:04 AM) UTC RSOE


Striped dolphin – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



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