Dead dolphin washes up on Myrtle Beach shore

It was a depressing sight for early morning beach walkers near Myrtle Beach: a dead dolphin.

"It's just sad to see. This is the first time in many, many years that we've seen one wash up here. I understand it's happened, but you don't want to see it happen," said Rhonda Cato, who lives a few blocks away from where the dolphin stranded.

Though it's rare around here, dolphins have been dying in huge numbers elsewhere.

More than 800 dolphins have been found stranded along the East Coast this year, about four times the yearly average.

Most of them tested positive for the morbillivirus, a measles-like illness that can lead to pneumonia and other infections.

Dani Silva, a marine biology grad student at Coastal Carolina University who examined the dolphin that stranded near Myrtle Beach, says the 7-foot female looked emaciated, a possible sign the virus may have contributed to its death.

Silva says the dolphin was taken to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lab in Charleston for a necropsy to determine the cause of death.

She says there are good reasons why Horry County police and beach patrol were on scene to keep people at a distance from the animal.

"Even though this specific virus that's killing them right now is not contagious, the other viruses that they have might be, so you really don't want to be touching them or breathing too close to them because you can get some diseases from them," said Dani Silva,

Silva says dolphins are considered sentinels.

That means poor health in them could be a sign of poor health in the ocean.

"It usually doesn't jump from mammals to birds or things like that, but other things like heavy metals and pollution, then you can really tell that it's affecting other animals as well."