Federal biologists have opened a formal investigation into the elevated number of strandings of bottlenose dolphins in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia from early July 2013.
More than seven times the historical average of bottlenose dolphin died during July in the East Coast, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has declared an “Unusual Mortality Event” under the Marine Animal Protection Act.
The declaration frees up federal resources for a more in-depth investigation.
It isn’t clear whether an infectious disease is causing the deaths; scientists plan to test blood and tissue for viruses, bacteria, fungi and biotoxins, among other things. Early tissue analysis showed that one suspect could be morbillivirus, an infectious pathogen.
It has been 25 years since the 1987-1988 bottlenose dolphin morbillivirus mortality event that occurred along the mid-Atlantic coast, involving over 740 animals and spanning from New Jersey to Florida.
Reuters reports that scientists have warned the public not to approach the animals if they see one stranded because they could harbor an infectious disease.
They ask that dead or stranded mammals in the Northeast be reported to NOAA’s marine mammal stranding network at 1-866-755-6622.
Image Source: Mark Lee/Flickr