Virus suspected in humpback whale death on Hatteras Island

By on November 4, 2013

CHNS Whale 101613

(Submitted photo)

Initial results of a necropsy show a virus that killed hundreds of dolphins along the East Coast is suspected in the death of a 30-foot humpback whale that stranded on Hatteras Island last month.

Karen Clark, Outer Banks Marine Mammal Stranding Network program coordinator at the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education in Corolla, said they are still awaiting results of more detailed testing to determine if morbillivirus is to blame for the whale’s death.

The whale was found alive Oct. 16 on the beach between Salvo and Avon in Cape Hatteras National Seashore, but died the next morning.


The virus, similar to measles in humans, has been killing off scores of dolphins since June from New Jersey to South Carolina.

There have been no reported cases of human infection with cetacean morbillivirus, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. Morbillviruses tend not to infect hosts not closely related.

Cases have been recently found on the beaches of South Carolina as the marine mammals migrate south for the winter, according to Clark.


Clark said 58 bottlenose dolphins between August and October had been found dead on the beaches of North Carolina, but just six were discovered last month.

Morbillivirus was also blamed for the death of more than 740 bottlenose dolphins from New Jersey to Florida in 1987-88.


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