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Itacuruça Journal: ‘Sentinel’ Dolphins Die in Brazil Bay. Some Worry a Way of Life Has, Too.

“The number of industries and ventures along Sepetiba Bay has been growing exponentially in recent years,” said Dr. Alonso, the biologist. “What that generates is a greater concentration of pollutants in the seafloor and in the food chain.”

Scientists have attributed the rash of dolphin deaths to morbillivirus, an airborne virus from the family that causes measles in humans. They are now seeking to understand how the dolphins became so highly vulnerable to the virus, and are examining the role of pollution and environment degradation.

The effects of the virus — rash, fever, respiratory infection, disorientation — suggest an agonizing death. Dying dolphins were seen swimming sideways and alone. Some carcasses had ugly deformations, and blood dripping from their eyes. Outbreaks have been reported among dolphins in other parts of the world, but this is the first for the species in the South Atlantic.

“The reality is that the mass death caused by morbillivirus is only the tip of the iceberg,” said Leonardo Flach, the scientific coordinator at the Grey Dolphin Institute, a conservation group that is also involved in the sleuthing.

The Guiana dolphin, a species found from Central America to southern Brazil, is considered a sentinel because, as a top predator and mammal, it is prone to disease linked to polluted waters, Dr. Flach said. He has urged the creation of a marine conservation area to study and safeguard the bay.

Sergio Hirochi, 49, a fisherman who was born in the area and owns three small boats, said he had seen the bay’s environmental decline, beginning in the mid-1990s when the mining company Ingá Mercantil operated in the area. The company closed in 1998 after it came under scrutiny for dumping pollutants, but a burst of new development followed.

“From here, I see how much mineral waste winds up in the ocean,” said Mr. Hirochi, who sells fish at a warehouse near his waterfront home. “The Bay of Sepetiba is an estuary, a nursery of species. And when you destroy it, you destroy marine life.”

Source: NYT > World

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