One by one, Guiana Dolphins have been dying from a common virus in Sepetiba Bay in Brazil.
Scientists have discovered more than 200 dead Guiana dolphins over the past few months in the bay, according to a new report by The New York Times. The deaths are linked to a virus related to measles called morbillivirus, which would typically only kill a handful of dolphins and has never been seen before in the South Atlantic.
Dead dolphins are being found bloated, scarred, deformed and emaciated all over the bay near Rio de Janeiro. The virus causes rashes, disorientation, fever, respiratory infection and, in these cases, an agonizing death.
According to biologist Mariana Alonso a the Biophysics Institute at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, the dolphins are sentinels which means that when something is wrong with them, that indicates the whole ecosystem is fractured.
Development in the region may have made the problem worse, according to the Times. Sepetiba Bay is a booming port and in the 1990’s, a mining company dumped pollutants in the water. Although that company closed, new businesses have been booming ever since.
The area use to be a tropical sleepy paradise area with white sand beaches and an archipelago of tiny hill-shaped island 40 miles west of downtown Rio. Today, it has become one of the main gateways for Brazilian exports over the past generation and with chemical, steel and manufacturing plants rising on its shores.
Reports out of Brazil show that fishermen have seen declines in the populations of other animals in the bay as well, making it difficult for them to catch enough to eat and sell. However, dolphin deaths are particularly noticeable, and dolphins are especially vulnerable to pollutants because predators that eat other animals can develop a higher concentration of whatever toxins their prey has eaten.
The government does acknowledge the impact urbanization has had on the once peaceful beaches but the municipal government in Itaguai, the largest nearby city, points out the benefits of development such as construction of modern highways and new land sold to companies. The misdirection is evident as they are trying to paint a picture that doesn’t focus on the environmental devastation and the economic success for the area.