JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. -- An unusually large number of dolphins are getting a measles type virus and dying along the east coast.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that it started in New York this past July and has steadily moved south.
It's called morbillivirus, and NOAA as well as Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission have been tracking its movement south as more dolphins are found washed up on area beaches.
Jacksonville Beach resident Kurtis Loftus jogs the beach each morning, and photographed one of these dolphins washed up Thursday morning in Atlantic Beach.
"It had been chewed up, but not eaten all the way," Loftus said of the gruesome discovery. "It's very rare to ever come across a dolphin beached, but especially one like that."
"They are compromised, the virus weakens them, so they are easy prey for sharks," said FWC researcher Nadia Gordon.
Gordon says the virus, coupled with the onshore, northeast winds that last few days is causing more of these mammals to wash up on our beaches.
She collected four from area beaches Thursday.
"Four in one day is a lot," Gordon said. "It's a lot higher than expected."
A dozen have washed ashore since the first case in Florida in October.
"We've had two in Nassau County, four in St. Augustine, and the rest [of the dozen] were found here in Jacksonville."
According to NOAA 798 dolphin deaths have been confirmed this year from the virus along the east coast.
For perspective, they say on average they find 75 dolphins that have died from this each year.
"This will eventually fade out," Gordon says it is just an act of nature. "It's not wiping out the entire dolphin population, they will come back."
And for Loftus it's a sad sight that will most likely keep washing up with every northeast wind. "Seeing the dolphin washed up on the beach, from some kind of virus, yeah, that's sad."
NOAA and FWC asks that anyone who discovers a washed up dolphin report it so they can collect it and run tests.
You can call the FWC hotline to report: 1-888-404-3922.
NOAA also has an app for that exact purpose. It's called Dolphin & Whale 911. You can find it in both the Google Play store and iTunes.
First Coast News