Dolphins are dying off in large numbers along the Mid-Atlantic states, which is baffling scientists today, reports “Fox and Friends Weekend” on Sunday morning live. This dolphin die-off started in July when “alarming numbers” of bottlenose dolphins washed ashore and to date the number has hit 124.
According to the Smithsonian.com website, the number of dolphins beached in the mid-Atlantic states this summer is seven times the usual rate, which indicates some type of event is causing these deaths.
The large number of dolphin deaths has led to the National Marine Fisheries Service, a branch of the NOAA, to officially designate the deaths as an “unusual mortality event.” This was done last week and by doing this an increased amount of federal funds will be allocated to help researchers investigate this bizarre occurrence.
Along the Atlantic shores, dozens of marine biologists are examining the stranded dolphin carcasses for clues. Charles Potter, who is a marine mammal expert with the Smithsonian Natural History Museum assisting in the dolphin investigation said:
“We basically perform necropsies of the carcasses that come in,” Potter says. “We’re assuming nothing, and looking at the entire animal for the cause of death, and any abnormal tissues. We also harvest a whole suite of specimens from each carcass, and these are sent out to labs for analysis.”
Potter conducted five in-depth necropsies, which are animal autopsies. While the investigation is still in the preliminary stages, clues of a potential culprit that could be causing this dolphin die-off has surfaced. Back in 1987, a major die-off of dolphins numbered to 740 of these animals and it was discovered this was due to morbilivirus.
So far one dolphin tested this year was positive for morbilivirus, a disease that produces lesions in the lungs and central nervous system tissue. This morbilivirus is most likely caused by an underlying factor and it may be that humans are to blame for this suggests Potter.
Disproportionate numbers of males and calves are among the dolphins turning up dead, suggesting female dolphins fare better with what ever is causing this die-off. Potter thinks it may environmental contaminants, such as heavy metals, pesticides and hydrocarbons that may play a role.
“Males don’t have a mechanism for shedding contaminants. The females shed significant amounts of their lipid-soluble contaminants through lactation, so the calf gets a hell of a dose early on in life, and some of the most outrageous levels of contaminants we’ve seen have been in calves.”
Potter believes that it is possible that the dolphin's overall buildup of contaminants is one factor that could be contributing to this die-off. This, coupled with other stresses caused by human activity, such as increased noise and competition for space and food with humans may be making them more susceptible to infectious pathogens.
The researchers need to get to the beached dolphins as soon as possibly so the public is asked that you call immediately when one is discovered. The longer a beached or dead dolphin lays on the beach, the more vital information is lost for the researchers who are trying to find the cause of the 2013 dolphin die-off.