Posts Tagged '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

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.

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