The Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife is investigating a high number of dolphin deaths that have been reported over the past several weeks along the New Jersey shore.
Since July 9, 22 dead dolphins have been discovered along beaches in Ocean, Cape May, Monmouth and Atlantic Counties.
The agency says they are working with the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine to better understand why the animals died. So far, officials say they appear to be part of a natural disease cycle and not related to water quality.
Necropsy results have confirmed that four of the dolphins died of pneumonia. Federal officials are looking into larger than normal numbers deaths of dolphins in New Jersey and other Mid-Atlantic states, although at this time it is not known if there is any connection.
Twenty bottlenose dolphins and one common dolphin have been reported dead or dying on or near beaches scattered from Monmouth County to Cape May County. Dolphins of varying sizes and ages have been affected. The public is advised not to approach dead or dying dolphins.
“We are offering whatever assistance we can, including the use of our conservation officers and our boats to recover dolphins as we work to understand the cause of these deaths,” said Division of Fish and Wildlife Law Enforcement Chief Mark Chicketano.
Morbillivirus, a naturally occurring virus in dolphin populations, was confirmed in one of the recovered dolphins. The same virus was linked to the deaths of 90 dolphins in 1987 off New Jersey.
Results are pending on additional dolphins to help determine if morbillivirus is present in those animals.
“Dolphins swim close together in pods. Diseases spread between animals when they surface to breathe,” said Robert Schoelkopf, Director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center. “There is no evidence that the deaths we are seeing this summer are in any way related to water quality.”
The state’s Cooperative Coastal Monitoring Program, a joint state, local and federal effort, conducts routine testing of bathing beaches. Water quality has been excellent, with no closures of ocean beaches due to elevated bacteria levels.
Officials are urging the public not to approach the animals or attempt to bring them ashore. Pets should also be kept away from them. If you see a dead or dying dolphin, contact the Marine Mammal Stranding Center’s 24-hour hotline at 609-266-0538.