Several disease outbreaks, which have caused the deaths of many thousands of seals and dolphins during the last decade, have now been attributed to infections with newly identified Morbilliviruses. Outbreaks in the late eighties amongst harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) and grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) in northwestern Europe and amongst baikal seals (Phoca sibirica) in Siberia were caused by the newly discovered phocine distemper virus and by a strain of canine distemper virus, respectively. Although closely related these two viruses were not identical. They were more distantly related to the viruses which caused mass mortality amongst striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba) in the Mediterranean sea in the early nineties. This dolphin morbillivirus was shown to be closely related to a virus that was found in harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) which had stranded at the coasts of northwestern Europe in the late eighties: porpoise morbillivirus. The present knowledge of the genetic and antigenic relationships of these apparently new members of the genus Morbillivirus with the established members of the genus is presented. In addition, the origin and epizootiological aspects of these newly discovered viruses are discussed. Finally experimental evidence that environmental pollution may have contributed to the severity and extent of these infections in recent years is presented.

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Veterinary Microbiology
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Osterhaus, A., de Swart, R., Vos, H., Ross, P., Kenter, M., & Barrett, T. (1995). Morbillivirus infections of aquatic mammals: newly identified members of the genus. Veterinary Microbiology, 44(2-4), 219–227. doi:10.1016/0378-1135(95)00015-3