By Frank Saverino
Since the beginning of July, over 80 bottlenose dolphins of all sizes and ages have washed up dead along the Jersey shore from Ocean to Atlantic counties. The Marine Mammal Stranding Center expects the rate to continue and surpass even the 1987 record of 93 dolphins. In August, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration’s statistics labeled the epidemic “an unusual mortality event,” and since then, the Department of Environment Protection has stepped in to help investigate the growing problem.
The DEP has sent conservation officials and additional helicopters to help marine experts and volunteers probe ocean waters to rescue corpses and prevent more dolphins from washing up on the beaches. Necropsies have affirmed that the same morbillivirus of the 1987 “dolphin-demic” was responsible for the deaths of at least 12 dolphins, and the state is continuing to test more corpses at the state Agriculture Department laboratory right here in Ewing Township.
“None of us want to see these dolphins — they’re beautiful animals — none of us want to see them washing up on shore dead, so we’re trying to be part of the solution,” Gov. Christie said during his visit to Point Pleasant on Thursday, Aug. 29.
While the government has clearly tried to assert itself as a force in the environmental issue, more factors that have led to this alarming loss in the dolphin population are yet to be revealed. And New Jersey isn’t the only state facing a “dolphin-demic.”
The NOAA has stated that along the eastern coastline, from New York to North Carolina, 430 dead dolphins have been reported.
The DEP has been quick to connect the large loss of dolphins to the morbillivirus found in some of the dolphins, describing the epidemic as a “natural disease cycle.” They also reported that the quality of New Jersey’s shore water has been high this summer, but this has not comforted marine experts and environmental enthusiasts.
Virginia alone has seen the greatest “dolphin-demic,” reporting 120 found dead along the coast. Susan Barco, the senior scientist at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, voiced the concerns of many environmentalists following the issue and its greater implications. She emphasized the importance of following and helping to fight the epidemic in an interview with AFP news online, describing the bottlenose dolphin as a “sentinel” of the ocean. According to Barco, the poor health of the bottlenose dolphin can indicate the poor health and status of our ocean waters.
Here in New Jersey, similarly concerned and skeptical environmentalists are also pointing to the massive amount of sewage water that has flowed into the ocean since Hurricane Sandy last year. Pollutants and biotoxins coming from inland could be other possible contributors to the poor health of our waters and the bottlenose dolphin. The problem is certainly not simple, and the issue is still ongoing.