CANBERRA: The deaths of bottlenose dolphins in South Australia (SA) have been linked to climate change, according to a latest study.
Researchers from Flinders University on Thursday revealed that a highly-contagious measles-related virus, cetacean morbillivirus, was responsible for the deaths of more than 50 dolphins in SA in 2013.
According to the study, the outbreak coincided with high sea-surface temperatures, which were a result of global warming.
“Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent with climate change, placing greater stress on individuals, populations and species that may not be able to adapt or cope with environmental changes,” lead author Luciana Moller told News Corp Australia on Thursday.
“We wanted to find out if susceptibility to the virus was related to variation in the dolphins’ DNA.”
Moller and Kimberley Batley, a PhD candidate, found that genes linked to stress, pain and immune responses made dolphins more likely to contract cetacean morbillivirus.
“What really surprised us was that, as well as immune genes, we found variation between survivors and non-survivors within genes that activate stress-related proteins,” Batley said.
“Variation within these genes may have played an important role in responses to environmental stress.
“Using this information, we can now screen other dolphin and whale populations around the world, to identify populations at greater risk of succumbing to this deadly disease.”
The Australian Marine Conservation Society revealed earlier in December that 110 dolphins have suffered slow deaths after being caught in fishing nets in SA and Victoria state since the start of 2017.
SA’s dolphins have become a major tourist drawcard for the state and feature prominently in its tourism campaigns.
The state government in November announced a plan to introduce strict speed limits for boats in the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary so as to protect the mammals.