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Dolphin deaths spike

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The number of dead dolphins in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries has already exceeded the total for 2012. Above is a dolphin that washed up Sunday on the Urbanna Creek shore. (Photo by D. Smith)

by Tom Chillemi

An abnormally high number of dead dolphins have been washing up on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. The influx began on July 25, said Joan Barns, public relations manager for the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center in Virginia Beach.

A 5-foot dolphin that washed up on Urbanna Creek on Sunday was the 100th dolphin that the aquarium’s stranding response team has recorded so far this year, Barns said, noting that the normal number of dead dolphins handled by the team in an entire year is 64.

Usually, the team will pick up 6 or 7 dolphins during July, she added. Since the spike that began July 25, the stranding response team has recorded 5 or 6 dolphins per day.

The dolphin strandings have occurred mostly in the southern part of the Chesapeake Bay.

The stranding response team picked up a dolphin that washed up on Gwynn’s Island on July 26, reported the Mathews-Gloucester Gazette Journal. Another dolphin washed up on a Gwynn’s Island shore and the property owner towed it into the Chesapeake Bay and released it, the story reported.

Three dead dolphins washed up at the mouth of the Great Wicomico River on the Northern Neck.

Researchers are performing necropsies (a type of autopsy) attempting to determine the increase in deaths. Barns explained that researchers can take tissue samples from dead dolphins that are not badly decomposed to be analyzed. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries and other agencies are assisting the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center in analyzing information.

The deaths appear to be disease-oriented, she said, and do not appear to be as the result of human interaction, such as being entangled in nets or in collisions with boats.

There was a large number of dead dolphins recorded in 1987, and that’s when the stranding response team was formed, Barns explained.

Dolphin strandings should be reported to the Virginia Aquarium hotline at 757-385-7575. Include a GPS location if possible.

The Virginia Aquarium stranding response program is funded by donations and grants. Their supplies are running low, so donations are greatly appreciated, said Barns.

Read the rest of this story in this week’s Southside Sentinel at newstands throughout the county, or sign up here to receive a print and/or electronic pdf subscription.

posted 08.07.2013

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