Dolphin deaths in N.J. still happening, but weather could change things

3:11 PM, Oct 23, 2013   |    comments
Dolphin deaths are studied by a necropsy technician at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa. (Photo: Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania)
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The dolphins are still dying, but an advocate hopes the die-off will end soon.

A total of 129 bottlenose dolphin deaths have been recorded in New Jersey since July 9 - more than during a 1987 die-off, said Robert Schoelkopf, longtime director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine.

A couple of bottlenose dolphins a week are being found dead now, and "they're coming in now not as fresh as they were" earlier, Schoelkopf said.

Two more were found on Tuesday: one in the Brant Beach section of Long Beach Township and the other in Brigantine, he said.

"We're hoping with this cold front coming through and the storm offshore that that might trigger them to move further south," he said. "In '87, (the die-off) stopped by the end of September," with 93 dead dolphins found in New Jersey.

More than 800 bottlenose dolphins have been found stranded from New York to North Carolina this year through Monday, and a measles-like virus is the likely cause, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration's Fisheries Service. NOAA has called it an "unusual mortality event."

From June 1987 through May 1988, 742 dolphins were confirmed dead from New Jersey through Florida, according to a study published in 1994. Morbillivirus infections were confirmed in those dolphins.

Of the 120 dolphins tested so far during this year's outbreak, morbillivirus has been confirmed or suspected in 110, according to NOAA.

Schoelkopf said he's hopeful the current die-off will end shortly and he doesn't think it will resume in the spring.

"All the animals that are affected will be dead before next year's arrival," he said. "They'll be dying off in southern states."

About four common dolphins have also been found dead in New Jersey, but they have not been shown to be affected by the virus, he said.

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