; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Bottlenose Dolphin Deaths Surge on U.S. East Coast

I have been very concerned and discouraged by the sharp rise in manatee deaths in Florida. I am very active in the Save the Manatee Club, a particular interest of several well-known donors including Jimmy Buffett. Now this report concerning the high number of bottlenose dolphins turning up on East Coast beaches:

Bottlenose dolphins are turning up dead or dying along East Coast beaches in such alarming numbers this summer that national officials have declared an "unusual mortality event" and formed a team of experts to investigate the cause.

The problem is particularly acute in New Jersey and Virginia, but stranded dolphins have also been reported in New York, Maryland and Delaware, Maggie Mooney-Seus of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration's Marine Fisheries Service said Wednesday.

"It has been going on at least since the beginning of July," she said in a telephone interview.

Since July, at least 228 bottlenose dolphins have been found stranded in the region. A few have been alive when discovered on the sand, but all eventually died or were euthanized.

Nineteen stranded dolphins were found in New Jersey last month, compared with four in July 2012. An additional 40 have been found in New Jersey so far this month. New York reported 15 dead dolphins in July compared with one in July 2012. Virginia had 48 dead dolphins in July and 80 so far in August, according to the NOAA Marine Fisheries Service.

National officials became aware of the problem after New Jersey's Marine Mammal Stranding Center, which monitors such strandings, alerted them to the increase in dolphin deaths. The problem got so bad that the center's co-director Bob Schoelkopf said he was running out of body bags and space to hold the corpses, which are being autopsied to determine the causes of death.

"It's not a yearly thing," Schoelkopf said of the deaths, during an interview this month with New Jersey's News12.com. "Yearly we may see a dozen off and on throughout the year."

Schoelkopf and Mooney-Seus said the last time the area saw such a surge in dolphin deaths was in 1987-88, when 740 dolphins from New Jersey to Florida were found dead. The deaths were linked to morbillivirus, which can be passed from dolphin to dolphin and which is linked to the measles virus.

Scientists are looking at morbillivirus, as well as fungi and other diseases as they conduct necropsies on the dead dolphins.

One thing they have been able to rule out, so far, is contact with fishermen as the cause of the deaths, said Mooney-Seus. She added that marine experts also would investigate possible oceanic changes arising from oil spills, pollution and Hurricane Sandy.

"We have to look at everything," she said. "At this point we're not ruling anything out." - LA Times


Dolphin, Manatee Deaths in Indian River Lagoon

There is something very wrong with the Indian River Lagoon. Since the first of the year, 60 bottlenose dolphins have died, and one more that was rescued is expected to recover.

In all, 280 manatees have died in the waters of Brevard County in the last 12 months, sea grass has died, 250 brown pelicans have died and so far, no single cause has been uncovered.

"People always want to point their finger at the problem and come up with a quick solution, but when you're dealing with natural systems, that's usually not the way it happens," said Troy Rice of the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program.

Earlier this month the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared an Unusual Mortality Event, “due to increased bottlenose dolphin strandings in the Indian River Lagoon System along the east coast of Florida beginning in January 2013."

The declaration opens up additional federal funding to further study the die-off.

Right now, the Investigative Team is preparing to test samples from the stranded animals. NOAA said blood and tissue samples will be tested for "bacterial, viral, toxin and other infectious agents." NOAA estimates there are currently more than 660 bottlenose dolphins in the Indian River Lagoon.

But, while scientists investigate the problem, some worry the damage may have already been done.

"The lagoon may be at that tipping point," said Rice. "We've put way too much pollution into the lagoon and fresh water into the lagoon."

In the last several decades, the lagoon's watershed has been artificially expanded about 146 percent according to the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program. In addition, development along the coast has gone virtually unchecked since 2011 when the state abolished the Department of Community Affairs which oversaw construction based on availability of fresh water and drainage canals.

Critics also point to the more than 22,000 registered septic tanks in Brevard County as a possible source of contamination.

In a March presentation by Florida Atlantic University, researchers found that, "Septic Tank Effluent contaminated groundwater to levels in violation of State standards and suggest subsurface transport of contaminants into Jones Creek via the uppermost zones of the surficial aquifer."

"I think the Indian River Lagoon is a clear example of the stresses that we are putting on our systems," said Christopher Byrd, a former state environmental attorney. "The lagoon has hit a tipping point and it's in decline, it's being decimated."

While the deaths of manatees and brown pelicans are alarming, scientists said it is the dolphin die-off that should be most concerning.

"They are sort of the canary in the coal mine for the Indian River Lagoon," said Megan Stolen of Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute of Melbourne Beach. "It really speaks to what the whole system is going through."

Dolphins are the apex predator in the Indian river Lagoon. Their deaths have caught the attention of not just researchers but recreational fishermen along the waterway. While fishing continues to be a popular hobby, fishermen complain that the numbers of fish are not as great as they had been in the lagoon, with many deciding to practice catch-and-release rather than eat the fish caught in the waters.

For now, the State of Florida is investigating the manatee and pelican deaths, while the federal government is in charge of the bottlenose dolphin deaths.

"(What) we might be seeing is a sort of cascade of events," said Stolen. "We're seeing multiple influences come tighter in a perfect storm." - WFTV

Endangered Mermaids: The Manatees of Florida

The Florida Manatee: Biology and Conservation

Dolphins, Whales, and Manatees of Florida: A Guide to Sharing Their World

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