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Dolphin Strandings on East Coast Alarm Scientists

Aug 01, 2013 01:13 PM EDT
Common Dolphin
Long-distance ocean swimmer Adam Walker was halfway through his 25-kilometer trek across New Zealand's Cook Strait last week when a pod of dolphins showed up to protect him from the great white shark swimming below.
(Photo : Oceana)

Above-average occurrences of dolphins washing ashore dead or dying along the US East Coast has marine scientists concerned.

Wednesday another dead dolphin washed up in Virginia in the Ocean View area near Norfolk along the state's southeast, marking the third dead cetacean to be found in a matter of days and the fourth in the last three weeks, according to local news station WAVY.

The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center initially dismissed suggestions that the dolphin deaths were connected, but now it is reevaluating its position.

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

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.

This summer's strandings in Virginia are not isolated. Since July 9, at least 21 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, adding that NOAA said last week it is investigating an increase of bottlenose dolphin deaths between New Jersey and Virginia.

"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."

In Virginia there have already been 82 dolphin strandings reported this year, notably more than a typical year's average of 64, according to Swingle of the Virginia Aquarium. Just less than half of the 82 strandings occurred in July, a month where the average number of dolphin strandings is just seven.

In Delaware, about twice as many baby dolphins have washed ashore this year compared to averages, Suzanne Thurston, executive director of the Delaware-based Marine Education, Research and Rehabilitation Institute, told the Press of Atlantic City. In a typical year, five or six baby dolphins wash up on Delaware's shores, but at least 10 have already been found this summer.

She said most of the dolphins were badly decomposed when discovered, but that one was found alive, though it later died of a severe pneumonia infection related to an E. coli infection.

"We're on alert," Thurston said. "I'm notifying our stranding team to try to prepare the best we can for an increase."

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