The summer season may be over in New Jersey, but the dolphin deaths are not. Nearly 150 have washed onto New Jersey beaches since early July.

The most recent discovery was just three days ago in Cape May, according to Bob Schoelkopf, founding director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine.

Dolphin being removed from a Jersey Shore beach
Dolphin being removed from a Jersey Shore beach (Jersey Shore Hurricane News via Facebook)

The die-off from New York to North Carolina has been linked to morbillivirus, which can result in skin lesions, pneumonia, and a host of infections. The virus cannot be transmitted to humans.

"It just has to take its course, and the weaker animals die off," said Schoelkopf. "And there's no age discrimination. Some of them are juvenile, maybe a year or so, and some are adults."

The same virus was blamed for killing hundreds of dolphins in 1987, but the die-off stopped by the end of September.

Dolphins have been roaming New Jersey waters for a bit longer in recent years, likely due to warmer water temperatures and plenty of prey to feed on.

"As animals move out of the area, we'd expect to see less stranding off of New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland," said Mendy Garron, a fisheries regional mammal response coordinator with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Garron said researchers are trying to figure out how the virus was reintroduced into the dolphin population. The species' immunity seemed to have worn off due to their lack of exposure since the '87 outbreak.

"We are looking to see if humans might play a part in this," she explained. "There are a lot of theories that contamination off of our coast can impact the immune system of these animals."

Anyone who comes across a dead or dying dolphin should contact their local stranding network member.


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