NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) - After biologists determined a virus is causing hundreds of bottlenose dolphins to die along the East Coast, the pattern of strandings continues to follow the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center's predictions.
This past weekend, the total number of dead dolphins found along Virginia's coast in 2013 reached 300 -- 195 percent higher than the yearly average during the past ten years. Another dolphin washed up Friday morning on the beach at Ocean View, which brings the total to 316. 11 dolphins washed up since Sunday, Sept. 15.
The deaths increased to the point of being labeled an "unusual mortality event" by NOAA Fisheries in August, and by August 27 the culprit was determined to likely be morbillivirus, similar to measles in humans and distemper in canines.
The same virus killed 750 dolphins between 1987 and 1988. During this round of the virus, dolphin deaths were initially located in the Chesapeake Bay, for the most part, and Virginia Aquarium researchers predicted the strandings would follow the same pattern as the 1980's occurrence.
“As we predicted with the air and water temperatures cooling, the dolphins are beginning to head further south. We have had more strandings in the lower Chesapeake and along the Atlantic beaches, and now North Carolina is getting them as well,” said Aquarium Research Coordinator Susan Barco on Tuesday.
During a conference call in late August, Dr. Teri Rowles with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the highest number of dolphin strandings now is occurring in Virginia, which also happened in the 1980s breakout. Since that breakout, there have been two others in the Gulf of Mexico, but not nearly at the same magnitude.
Barco said Tuesday that initially the dead dolphins found this summer were almost exclusively male, but not the ratio of male and female is similar to recent years.
"The lengths of stranded dolphins in 2013 are different from the most recent five years and we have seen fewer small, neonatal animals and more adults.” said Barco.
The 1980s die-off was a significant event for migratory bottlenose dolphins and was followed by a long recovery process, according to Rowles. While it is not certain when the strandings during this die-off will stop, Rowles said one could project the deaths to increase and continue into the spring of 2013.
The Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response staff is working to collect dolphins from Hampton Roads beaches as quickly as possible. Beach-goers are asked to call the Stranding Response 24-hour hotline at 757-385-7575 with the exact location of any stranded or dead dolphin, and to be patient as they may not be able to respond immediately.
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