During the study of a beached Malaysian dolphin, researchers from the United States and Canada have discovered a new deadly strain of cetacean morbillivirus. The article of the specialists was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Related to the measles and smallpox viruses, the cetacean morbillivirus has caused mass deaths of dolphins and whales worldwide. Previously recorded by scientists, outbreaks of two of its new strains — in Western Australia and Brazil – led to the deaths of 50 and 200 dolphins, respectively.
In 2018, a Malaysian dolphin, a representative of a scarce pelagic (living in the open sea) species, washed up on the coast of the Hawaiian island of Maui. Although the physical condition of his body was good, the dolphin’s organs had a painful appearance, and there was blood in the cerebrospinal fluid. Scientists decided to carry out his necropsy, during which the morbillivirus antigen was recorded in the cerebellum, lungs, kidneys, and lymph nodes. Genetic analysis of the collected cell cultures showed that this is a dangerous strain of cetacean morbillivirus unknown to researchers.
According to the researchers, this strain is a great threat to dolphins. Highly social Malaysian dolphins can spread the new morbillivirus around the world. Despite the fact that dolphins could already acquire immunity to it, it is possible to establish this reliably only through testing for antibodies.