Biologists based in Hawaii, United States, have discovered a new strain of cetacean morbillivirus. Fears of an epidemic are heavy, as this disease is the cause of several dolphin deaths and could be transmitted to other marine mammals.
Cetacean morbillivirus (CeMV) is a pathogen that can cause fatal infections in marine mammals around the world. The virus was detected in a solitary young male dolphin from the Fraser River, which ran aground off the coast of Maui in 2018. Therefore, for two years, scientists observed the body, which according to their initial observations, appeared healthy on the outside. . However, some of his organs showed signs of disease.
As detailed in the analysis published in the journal Nature scientific reports, if no particularities were observed at the level of the thorax and abdomen, this is not the case of the lungs, of which certain blood tissues, in addition to the trachea and the main bronchi, presented alterations.
So, as explained in the release, Researcher at the Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawaii, Kristi West, “This Fraser River dolphin beached in 2018 reveals that it has a new strain that is highly divergent from morbillivirus.”
It should be noted that Fraser’s dolphins are social and friendly beings, and they have a reputation for encountering dolphins of other races, or even whales. This sociability worries scientists, who fear that in contact with Fraser’s dolphins, the “highly infectious” pathogen could spread to other parts of the world.
Kristi West gives the example of the killer whales better known as killer whales. Like many others, this species is vulnerable, especially “because there are only 167 individuals left in Hawaii and if the morbillivirus were to spread through this population, not only would it be a major obstacle to the recovery of the population, but it could also pose a threat of extinction “.
Researchers are closely monitoring the spread of the virus in cetaceans. Especially since between November and December 2017, more than 200 Guyanese dolphins were found dead in Brazil. In fact, this unusual mortality was related to the new strain of morbillivirus. And more recently, we know that the virus was also identified in three southern right whales stranded in Brazil.
The authors of the new study say more research is needed to test the level of immunity in dolphins and whales in the central Pacific. In fact, “it could help establish the previous infection rate and the extent of the epidemic.”
However, marine wildlife managers and ecologists must be extremely vigilant, as it will not be easy to control this disease. A vaccination campaign is even planned, as the United States Agency for Oceanic and Atmospheric Observation (NOAA) has already worked on a vaccine against monk seal morbillivirus in Hawaii.