Bird flu kills Florida dolphin

The detection of highly pathogenic avian influenza virus in a bottlenose dolphin recovered by University of Florida marine animal rescuers marks the first time the virus has been identified in a cetacean in America. Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

A bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) was found dead in Florida due to bird flu. It’s the first cetacean found with highly pathogenic avian influenza in the United States and one of only two in the world. Officials with University of Florida Health said the dolphin was recovered at Horseshoe Beach, on the Gulf Coast 70 about 70 miles west of Gainesville. Researchers believe it was infected by interacting with a wild bird killed by the H5N1 virus, which has affected populations of both wild and domestic birds around the world.

The virus also has been responsible for the death of a porpoise in Sweden. While it has mostly affected birds, other mammals have contracted the virus, including seals, foxes and coyotes.

“Although avian flu infection had never been documented in a dolphin, the high incidence of the virus in wild birds within the state in the spring — specifically aquatic bird species such as ducks, gulls, terns and herons — suggested that encounters between dolphins and dying or dead birds near the shoreline was not out of the realm of possibility,” said Andrew Allison, assistant professor of veterinary virology at the University of Florida.

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