By Molly Daly, Cleve Bryan
LONG BEACH ISLAND, N.J. (CBS) — The last couple of weeks have been hard on dolphins at the Jersey shore. Since July 9th, the carcasses of 21 dolphins have washed up, from Monmouth County to Cape May.
One was found Wednesday on the beach in Atlantic City, and another in the waters off Cape May.
All but one were bottlenosed dolphins.
Bob Schoelkopf, of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, NJ, says generally just a few wash up in a normal season.
“This is an unusually high number, and the fact that they’re coming in multiple numbers like this per day indicates a problem out at sea,” Schoelkopf tells KYW Newsradio.
Schoelkopf says in 1987 there were 90 dolphin that washed up because of a morbillivirus which similar to measles in humans.
Necropsy reports for four dolphins in New Jersey show pneumonia as the cause of death. Pneumonia has been linked to dolphins in mass deaths caused by morbillivirus infection but Schoelkopf says more dolphins need to be tested to draw any conclusions.
They’ve taken the dolphin carcasses to Penn Veterinary School’s New Bolton Center in Chester County for necropsies, but the reports haven’t come back yet since they’re shorthanded.
The Marine Mammal Stranding Center is having the same problem: one of the three staffers is on vacation.
“My guys are actually working their days off as well as their regular scheduled days,” says Schoelkopf. “Not only are we feeding and caring for the seals here and the sea turtle, but we have to go and run up and down the coast picking up these dead animals.”
They’re doing that in an old van that has broken down several times — once with a dead dolphin in it and once with a load of fish. That means repairs, and fuel, and then there’s the need to get the fish to their patients.
Meanwhile, Schoelkopf notes, federal funding has dried up, so they could really use contributions, and volunteers to help with driving.
If you find a dead or injured dolphin, seal, or sea turtle, Schoelkopf says, don’t touch it or let your kids or dog near it.
“It should be reported immediately to the police, or even the lifeguards, and they’ll report it to us,” he said.
The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center has also responded to a higher number of dead and dying bottlenose dolphins normal this time of year.
Aquarium officials say the Stranding Response Team picks up an average of 99 marine mammals during a year, 64 of which are bottlenose dolphins. They have responded to 82 dolphins in 2013, with 44 in July alone.
NOAA Fisheries is collecting data from resources along the mid-Atlantic to try identifying a cause for the deaths.
Find out more at marinemammalstrandingcenter.org.