Federal wildlife officials announced Thursday, that at least 124 bottlenose dolphins have turned up dead since July.
124 dolphin deaths is seven times higher than normal for this time of year. One of the dolphins was found to have morbillivirus, which is a measles-like virus that has been the cause behind dolphin death rates increasing in previous years. These types of outbreaks are common in coastal areas, with 60 outbreaks having been declared since 1991. Officials have yet to determined if morbillivirus is behind this rise in deaths. Federal scientist and funds will aid investigators in identifying the reason behind the increase in dolphin deaths. The dolphins that have been found are either stranded on beaches, or have been seen by boaters. Officials warn people to keep kids and dogs at least 50-feet away from stranded dolphins to avoid contracting the virus. They also urge people to report stranded dolphins to authorities, rather than trying to help the animals themselves, reports USA Today.
“This is the highest number that we have had for this time of year since 1987,” Susan Barco, research coordinator at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, told USA Today.
The National Marine Fisheries Service estimates that there are close to 20,000 bottlenose dolphins living along the coast, 81,000 in deep waters and a small group of about 780 that live in the Pamlico Sound near North Carolina.