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Dolphin Strandings in Virginia Continue as Total Reaches 100

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Aug 05, 2013 01:17 PM EDT
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A lawsuit filed Monday accuses the US Navy and the National Marine Fisheries Services of violating the Marine Mammal Protection act by their role in allowing a series of planned underwater activities including open-sea bombing drills and sonar activities that, by the Navy's own account, will affect millions of marine mammals. (Photo : Creative Commons Via Flickr/ lowjumpingfrog)

Marine animal experts are investigating an abnormally high number of dolphins being found stranded on the shores of Virginia beaches.

Already this year, the Virginia Aquarium's Stranding Response Team has responded to about 100 dolphin strandings, 44 of which were in July, mostly around the southern part of Chesapeake Bay. Dolphin strandings typically a peak in May.

Statistics of Virginia dolphin strandings indicate that six or seven stranded dolphins is average for July. Now, less than one week into August, an additional 13 dolphin corpses have already been found, pushing the total number of dead dolphins found on Virginia beaches in 2013 well above the annual average of 64.

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The most recent strandings appear to be almost exclusively males, of all ages and sizes, the Stranding Response Team reported, noting that many of the animals were found in states of decomposition so advanced that gaining useful information about cause of death will be difficult.

"We get calls from people who see them floating but we don't have the equipment to track them down," Joan Barns, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, told The Virginian-Pilot.

"Unfortunately, there are probably more dead dolphins out there but they just haven't landed yet."

Suggestions that the dolphin deaths are connected were initially dismissed by experts at the Aquarium, but now this position is being reevaluated.

"We are a little bit concerned about it," the Virginia Aquarium's Mark Swingle told local news outlet WAVY last week. "It's definitely at a much higher level than we're used to seeing at this time of year."

This summer's strandings in Virginia are not isolated. Since July 9, at least 25 dolphins have washed up along the shores of New Jersey and in Delaware 10 dead baby dolphins have been found since June, the Press of Atlantic City reported.

"We're trying to collect any info we can to see if there are any trends," Maggie Mooney-Seus, spokeswoman for the NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, told the Press of Atlantic City. "Right now we don't have enough info to say we're seeing anything out of the ordinary. We're still collecting the data."

According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, last year 217 dolphins were stranded on the East Coast in a four month period, making 2012 "the largest dolphin stranding season on record within the East Coast." As last year came to a close, researchers postulated that 2013 might be another year record mass strandings.

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