REEDVILLE, Va. (AP) — While friendly close contact is essential to dolphin social bonds, sharing space and air can also quickly spread disease.
To track a virus outbreak among East Coast dolphins, scientists are tracing the social networks of these playful animals in the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay.
Scientists say a highly contagious and lethal virus called cetacean morbillivirus is one of the biggest threats to dolphins and whales worldwide.
According to the Associated Press, the disease is like measles in humans. The disease first spread among the animal from 2013 to 2015.
That outbreak caused more than 1,600 dolphins to wash ashore on beaches along the East Coast from New York to Florida, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the news outlet reported.
The virus killed an estimated 20,000 dolphins during that time period.
Human disruptions to marine habitats, including chemical and plastic pollution, boat noise and warming temperatures, weaken marine mammals' immune systems, leaving them more vulnerable to disease.