Bottlenose dolphin deaths rise on East Coast

August 8, 2013 3:13:59 PM PDT
Federal officials are investigating what's causing an unusually high number of bottlenose dolphins to wash up on the East Coast this summer, with many of them showing up on beaches already badly decomposed.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says 124 dolphins have been found dead in the Mid-Atlantic region since early July, causing the federal agency to declare an unusual mortality event for the mammals.

That declaration means an international group of scientists will have access to additional funding to study what's causing the problem. That investigation and analysis could take months or even years to finalize.

Officials say the spike in strandings began in early July, with dead dolphins reported in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. The dolphins live in temperate and tropical waters worldwide.

NOAA says dolphins of all ages have been affected. Necropsies haven't revealed a unifying pattern, although an infections pathogen is considered a likely cause.

Investigators plan to take blood and tissue samples and test them for infectious agents such as viruses, bacteria and fungi, as well as non-infectious agents such as biotoxins.

On Long Island on Thursday, the Riverhead Foundation got yet another call about another dolphin. The Foundation has tried to save 22 bottle nose dolphins in recent months.

"Couple weeks ago we had two live dolphins wash up on two different parts of the island, so you can imagine how difficult it is to be in two places at once," Rob DiGiovanni of the Riverhead Foundation said.

The Riverhead Foundation says last month alone they had 16 dolphins wash up on nearby shores.

Kimberly Durham is conducting the necropsies and hopes their research will help national scientists.

"We're going to collect those samples, samples such as lung tissues, lymph nodes and such and make those available to researchers," she said.

Anyone who sees a dolphin wash on shore on Long Island should contact the Riverhead Foundation at 631-369-9829.

Some information from the Associated Press