Will hundreds of dolphins die in Virginia again this year?

Posted at 5:22 PM, Apr 21, 2014
and last updated 2014-04-21 17:22:03-04

Virginia Beach, Va. (WTKR) - Last summer hundreds of dolphins washed up dead in Virginia and now the question is - will it happen again?

An Unusual Mortality Event was declared by NOAA for Atlantic bottlenosed dolphins from July 2013 through the present.

Virginia found itself at the center of the dolphin die-off last year, with hundreds of dolphins washing ashore.

"We all hope it's never going to be that way again - we had weekends where we had over 30 animals in two days," explained Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center Director of Research and Conservation Mark Swingle.

Data collected by NOAA shows that 346 dolphins stranded in Virginia between July 1, 2013 and April 13, 2014.

The average number of strandings for Virginia for that same time frame between 2007 and 2012 was 33.

You can can read more about the Unusual Mortality Event from NOAA by clicking here.

"Really, it started in New York and worked its way all the way down to Florida eventually and it's still ongoing," Swingle told NewsChannel 3's Todd Corillo.

As the warm weather returns to Virginia, so do dolphin populations, but right now it's anyone's guess if the high mortality rate will also increase.

"None of us really know what's going to happen this year because we don't really have anything to compare it to," Swingle stated. "We only have really one other event in history that's even close to this and that was a die off in the 1987-1988 time frame."

"Back then we had a huge number of strandings in Virginia in 1987 and the following year we didn't have an usual number of stranding in Virginia," he continued.

The hope is that will be the case for 2014.

"One of the theories is that this morbillivirus, this virus that worked its way through the population, may have actually done it's damage, worked its way through the population and those that survived are now more resistant to the virus and therefore maybe there won't be any mortalities, or any elevated moralities this year," Swingle explained.

So far this year Swingle says there have been 5 cases of dolphin strandings for the Stranding Response Team.

"In fact we aren't above anything that we would normally see this year at this time," Swingle said.

The high number of strandings came at a tough time for the team as they deal with drastic cuts in federal funding.

"We are still fighting that battle - trying to get some funding put back into that program - it's called the Prescott Stranding Grant Program. When these things happen - not having that funding is even more dramatic and really difficult for us to deal with," Swingle said.

The team relies on grants and donations to keep going.

"This is our busy season and anyone who would like to make a donation to the aquarium for the Stranding Response Team, that would certainly be welcome," Swingle stated.

Previous coverage on dolphin deaths:

Dead dolphins starting to wash up in North Carolina

More dead dolphins wash ashore

Four more dead dolphins wash up in Hampton Roads

25 more dead dolphins washed up over the weekend; Total now 164

Five more dead dolphins wash up in Virginia

Update: 13 more dead dolphins wash up in Virginia; Total now at 100 for the year

Dead dolphins washing up on Virginia beaches at an alarming rate