Posts Tagged 'dolphin strandings'

Dolphin Stranding Update: Investigative Range Extends Through Florida

national aquarium Animal Rescue Update

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently provided an update on the ongoing Unusual Mortality Event (UME) affecting bottlenose dolphins in the mid-Atlantic. Based on recent stranding patterns and test results from stranded dolphins, the NOAA and UME Investigative Team formally expanded the range of the event to include New York through Florida – which translates to roughly 1,600 miles of Atlantic coast.

Over the past few weeks, above ‘normal’ baseline strandings for this time of year have been reported in North Carolina and South Carolina, meanwhile, Florida is just beginning to see an increase in dolphin strandings. The population of bottlenose dolphins from New York to Virginia is mainly migratory. These dolphins are beginning to migrate south to warmer waters, which is the likely reason that North Carolina and South Carolina are seeing an overall increase in strandings.

NOAA dolphin stranding numbers

This graph from NOAA shows the total number of strandings reported this year, by state – since it’s creation, raw data from Florida’s strandings has also been collected by NOAA.

In addition to expanding the range of the event, NOAA is also awaiting final test results to determine if the virus that is attributed to this UME is also responsible for the deaths of other dolphin and whale species. Three humpback whales and two pygmy sperm whales have tested positive as carriers of the morbillivirus, however, further testing is needed to determine if these animals displayed any clinical signs and if the virus was the cause of death.

The beginning of this UME was classified as July 1, and to date the event has proven to be quite significant. According to the official NOAA website for this event, there have been more than 900 dolphin strandings from New York to South Carolina during the time frame of January 1, 2013 to November 4, 2013 – this number is 4.5 times higher than the average number of strandings.

National Aquarium continues to support this event by responding to live-stranded dolphins in Maryland. In addition to boots-on-the-ground response, our National Aquarium Animal Rescue staff are supporting the event by assisting the Incident Management Team that is coordinating the response plans within the designated UME area.

national aquarium animal rescue expert jennifer dittmar

A Blue View: Why Animals Strand

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

October 2, 2013: Why Animals Strand

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss the alarming
number of dolphins strandings observed along
the East Coast this year.

2013 has been a record-breaking year for dolphin strandings, with more than 500 dolphins stranding along the East Coast from New York to North Carolina since July 1. This number is almost 10 times the historical average for our region, and as a result, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has declared an unusual mortality event, or UME, working with partners throughout the region to respond to strandings and attempt to discover their causes.

A UME is declared when marine mammal strandings are unexpected, involve significant mortalities, and demand immediate response. Understanding and investigating marine mammal UMEs are important because they often serve as indicators of ocean health, giving insight into larger environmental issues. Since 1991, 60 UMEs have been declared nationally with the most common species cited as bottlenose dolphins, California sea lions, and manatees.

NOAA has tentatively attributed the mid-Atlantic dolphin die-off to a deadly strain of a measles-like disease, morbillivirus, based on tissue sampling. This same virus caused more than 700 dolphin deaths in 1987 and 1988, and—sadly—this current outbreak isn’t expected to fully subside until next spring.

Many marine animals, including dolphins, whales, seals, turtles, and sea lions, are known to strand. In late 2012, frigid waters off the coast of New England caused a severe cold-stun event, resulting in sea turtle strandings in record numbers. This winter was unlike any other for our partners in New England, who called in the National Aquarium and other animal rescue organizations to help with a mass stranding of more than 400 sea turtles. Over the next 6 months, more than 240 were rehabilitated and released into warmer waters.

On the West Coast this year, more than 1,000 sea lion pups washed ashore in Southern California, many starving and dehydrated. Though the cause of this mass stranding is still officially unknown, scientists believe that the young sea lions aren’t getting the food they need due to environmental factors that are limiting prey availability for pups. An investigation is ongoing.

These are just a few recent examples, and the fact is, animal strandings—of both individuals and entire populations—can occur for many reasons. Sometimes an animal is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Other times, an animal gets caught in fishing gear or is struck by a fishing vessel. Or, as in the case of the dolphins this year, an illness spreads through a population.

Those who spend time at the shore have probably seen a stranded marine animal. Even still, it can be difficult for even the most savvy beach-goer to know what to do.

First, you should never approach a stranded animal. If you encounter a semi-aquatic marine mammal resting on land, such as a seal, count yourself lucky. Appreciate the animal from a safe distance of at least 4 or 5 car lengths, take plenty of pictures, and remember that these are wild animals.

How you can help: 

  • Report any aquatic animal strandings or mortalities to the local stranding response facility. In Maryland, call the Natural Resources Police at 1-800-628-9944.
  • If you can, document the event with photos or video from a safe distance!
  • While it is tempting to want to help stranded dolphins, whales and turtles by pushing them back into the water, this can actually be more harmful to the animal.
  • Make a donation to a local stranding response organization. Events like this require a lot of basic equipment, supplies and fees for processing tissue samples.

Blog-Header-JohnRacanelli

Dolphin Stranding Update: Tentative Cause of Unusual Mortality Event Determined

Animal Rescue Update

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has determined, though preliminary tissue sampling, that the cetacean morbillivirus is to blame for the unusually high number of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins stranding along the East Coast in recent months.

To date, 97 percent of the dolphins tested (32 of 33) are suspect or confirmed positive for mobillivirus. This is the same virus that caused over 740 marine mammals to strand in a similar event back in 1987-88, the last time a massive die-off of bottlenose dolphins along the Atlantic Coast like this was observed.

What is the morbillivirus? 

Cetacean morbillivirus is a naturally occurring pathogen in marine mammal populations. It is not infectious to humans. At this time, there is no vaccine that can be easily deployed to stop the spread of the virus in wild, migratory dolphin populations; other than the animals natural ability to build antibodies to the virus.

Recently declared an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) by the federal government, these strandings have now reached numbers over nine times the historical average for the months of July and August for our region.

Although we have established a tenative cause, the UME investigation is still ongoing and stranding teams from New York to Virginia will continue to further evaluate tissue samplings and genetic sequencing. It may be years before we can truly confirm the cause for these strandings.

How is the National Aquarium involved in this event? 

National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue team responded to a live stranded bottlenose dolphin last Tuesday, August 20 at Assateague Island National Seashore. After a health assessment of the animal, veterinary staff recommended humane euthanasia due to the poor health of the animal. A full necropsy (animal autopsy) was performed by Aquarium staff to determine an underlying cause of stranding. Tissue samples have been submitted as part of the UME, and results are pending.

I have also been assisting the UME Incident Management Team with drafting a weekly Incident Action Plan that outlines objectives for response in the affected areas, staff and equipment assignments, formulating safety plans, and addressing gaps in coverage that arise during response. The Incident Command Structure is very effective when coordinating response to events such as this that cover a broad area and involve multiple government and non-government organizations.

Our team will continue to work closely with regional stranding partners and the federal government to help implement this plan and document this event for future research/learning.

As we continue to closely monitor this situation, stay tuned to the blog for updates! 

jenn dittmar animal rescue expert

Update: Bottlenose Dolphin Strandings Continue in Historic Numbers

Animal Rescue Update

More than 200 Atlantic bottlenose dolphins have washed ashore along the East Coast this summer. This alarming number is seven times higher than what’s normally seen in the Mid-Atlantic region – a statistic which caused the National Marine Fisheries Service to declare an “unusual mortality event.” 

Unfortunately, following the declaration of the the event last week, the has been no curb in the number of dolphins stranding on our shores. It is estimated that 25 dolphins were found in Virginia just over the weekend.

“We don’t know exactly what’s causing it, but we suspect it might be a virus called the morbillivirus,” our VP of Biological Programs, Brent Whitaker, told CNN’s Brian Todd yesterday during an interview here in Baltimore. Click below to watch the entire interview: 

CNN interview at national aquarium

The morbillivirus, a culprit very similar to the measles, killed approximately 740 dolphins in a similar event along the East Coast in 1987.

Although the virus has been found in some of the dolphins studied this year, it will take months for the federal investigation to produce a clear answer on what’s behind this event.

As part of the Northeast Stranding Network, our Animal Rescue and Animal Health teams have been deeply engaged in the efforts to study these dolphins and determine a cause of death.

Stay tuned to the blog for more updates! 

Blog-Header-JennDittmar

Unusual Mortality Event Declared in Response to Dolphin Strandings

Animal Rescue Update

Last week, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared an unusual mortality event in the Mid-Atlantic. For the month of July, dolphin mortalities were higher than average for the states of New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia. Stranding responders in these areas are working very hard to keep up with the number of dolphins washing ashore, and have been working to perform necropsies (animal autopsies) on as many dolphins as possible. During a necropsy, biologists look for signs of external or internal injuries, signs of disease or illness, and take routine tissue samples for laboratory analysis. Virginia has already collected over 100 bottlenose dolphin carcasses this year, which is about 20% more than their average for a whole year.

NOAA is compiling data that is being provided by the stranding networks and comparing it to historical numbers. This information will help NOAA determine if there is a widespread trend or if there are common factors across the affected areas. The last time a well-documented die-off took place was in 1987 when more than 740 bottlenose dolphins died in a range from New York to Florida. It took several years to compile test results and determine that the culprit was a measles-like virus known as morbillivirius. While it is unknown what is causing the present day die-off, biologists are not ruling out biotoxins, bacteria or viruses as a possibility. Charley Potter, a marine mammal biologist with the Smithsonian Institute is assisting the Virginia Aquarium with investigating the dolphin deaths, and is concerned that this event could be similar to the 1987 event, but it is still too early to tell.

Stranding networks play an important role in supporting the NOAA Fisheries Service through an array of unique research and monitoring opportunities to fulfill NOAA’s core mission. The national stranding network is a successful public/private venture for monitoring marine mammal strandings. Marine mammals are important indicator species of the ocean health, so monitoring their health through strandings is important for understanding the health of our oceans and the impacts of human activities in a time of significant development and change. The stranding networks and NOAA will continue to work together to investigate incidents such as this, and more information will be released as it becomes available.

What can you do to help during this event?

  • Report any live marine mammal strandings or mortalities to the local stranding response facility. In Maryland, call the Natural Resources Police at 1-800-628-9944.
  • If you do find a stranded dolphin, wait for directions from the local stranding responder – do not touch the animal or try to return it to the water. Doing so could cause more harm.
  • Make a donation to a local stranding response organization. Events like this require a lot of basic equipment, supplies, and fees for processing tissue samples.

Blog-Header-JennDittmar


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