Dolphin deaths increase along New Jersey, Virginia, other coasts

August 3, 2013 7:21:04 AM PDT
Officials are trying to determine the cause of a sharp increase in dolphin deaths in New Jersey, Virginia and other East Coast states.

On Friday, technicians from the Marine Mammal Stranding Center were in Avalon collecting yet another of the two dozen dolphins found dead or dying along the Jersey shore since July 9.

"There is no indication that this is a water quality issue," said Larry Hajna the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. "All indications are pointing to this being just a natural disease cycle in dolphins."

Stranding Center Director Bob Schoelkopf says so far at least four of the dead dolphins have tested positive for the morbillivirus. Similar to chickenpox or measles, it spreads among the population, compromising the dolphins' immune system.

They develop pneumonia and die.

"I hate to see that," said shore visitor Susan McCune of Oreland, Pa. "They are beautiful creatures. We were watching them the other day going by on the beach, and they are beautiful."

A similar outbreak in 1987 led to the death of 90 dolphins in New Jersey and 750 along the East Coast.

Marine experts are warning that if you see a dead or dying dolphin in the water or on the beach, don't go near it. And don't try to pull it to shore. You're putting yourself in danger.

Schoelkopf pointed out how one dolphin clearly shows the bite marks of a shark that attacked it when it washed up near 17th Street in Ocean City Thursday.

"If anybody were in there and thought they were going to do a good deed to help the poor dolphin, they would have been in line for a bite as well as the dolphin," he said.

Sharks have been attacking and feeding on the dead and dying dolphins, as you can see in this video captured by two fishermen recently 7 miles off the coast of Atlantic City.

Dead dolphins can also carry bacteria deadly to humans, posing a major health risk.

"They are also full of germs and parasites, such that humans are not equipped to fight off," said Bill Candell of Middle Township Animal Control.

The state and federal governments are monitoring the dolphin deaths, which as they increase are exhausting the resources of the nonprofit Marine mammal stranding Center in Brigantine, N.J.

As serious as the situation is in New Jersey, it has been even worse farther south. Five beached dolphins were found in Virginia alone on Thursday.

In July, nearly four dozen dead dolphins were found, mostly in Norfolk and along the southern part of the Chesapeake Bay. That's up from the typical six or seven usually picked up in July by the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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