We report serologic evidence of cetacean morbillivirus (CMV) infection in five of eight cetacean species found live stranded, injured, or trapped along the coast of southeastern Queensland and northern New South Wales, Australia between December 2005 and January 2011. Antibody to CMV was detected in 13 of 27 (48%) wild cetaceans sampled. Antibody prevalence was significantly higher in clinically diseased (69%) compared to nondiseased (18%) animals (P=0.018). There was high antibody prevalence (83%, n=6) in melon-headed whales (Peponocephala electra). Two of 13 (15%) captive cetaceans sampled between November 2005 and January 2011 had CMV antibodies and, as infection was unlikely to have occurred while in captivity, CMV infection appears to have been present in Australian wild cetaceans since at least 1985. These results indicate that morbillivirus infection is occurring without widespread cetacean mortality in this region. However, as the deaths of two immature Australian offshore bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) were attributed to CMV infection, morbillivirus infection should be included in the differential diagnosis of disease in cetaceans in Australia. Captive cetacean populations may be prone to significant mortality as a result of CMV introduction, so strict quarantine procedures should be enforced when injured or stranded cetaceans are hospitalized and rehabilitated at Australian zoos and marine parks.
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Vol. 48 • No. 1