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.
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.