Researchers are still trying to determine if the death of a common dolphin found in Shinnecock Bay last week was caused by a virus that has also attacked and killed scores of other dolphins across the Northeast this summer.
A rescue team from the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Rescue and Preservation responded to numerous reports of a dolphin swimming close to shore last week in Hampton Bays, but the mammal died before it could be brought back to the foundation’s rehabilitation center.
Kimberly Durham, rescue program director at the nonprofit facility, said calls about the dolphin first came in on Wednesday, September 4, though the foundation was not able to locate it until the following day off Nautilus Drive in Hampton Bays.
“We had several reports [Wednesday] of it close to shore and even some reports by the public said that people were trying to swim with it, which we found very upsetting,” Ms. Durham said last Thursday, September 5.
Initial findings from a necropsy of the 7-foot-long female common dolphin’s body revealed that it was suffering from severe respiratory infection, inflammation of the mammary tissue and likely had cerebral parasites, Ms. Durham wrote in an email. It also appeared the dolphin, which was an adult, had not been feeding.
These symptoms match the condition of many of the record-breaking number of dolphins that have been found dead and stranded in the waters off Long Island and other parts of the Northeast this summer. The foundation is having the mammal tested for morbillivirus, a contagious ailment that has been known to cause pneumonia, brain infections and skin loss, as well as other latent infections in dolphins, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The virus, which has killed several hundred bottlenose dolphins this year, has circulated through the population in the past, most notably causing a rash of dolphin deaths in 1987-88 that killed almost 1,000.
The significance of a positive diagnosis of morbillivirus in the most recently discovered dolphin is twofold, Ms. Durham explained, as it would confirm the presence of the disease in the area and, secondly, it would be the first diagnosis of the virus in a common dolphin.
There has been a rash of marine animals washing up on shore across Long Island this past year, with 64 recorded as of last month, eclipsing the previous single-year record of 58 set in 2007. This has been caused, in part, by an unusually high number of bottlenose dolphin deaths that some officials believe to be related to the morbillivirus.
“We want to find out whether or not this could be a completely isolated incident,” Ms. Durham said of the common dolphin found in Hampton Bays.
She added that it would take four to six weeks to determine if the morbillivirus contributed to its death.