Earth News Journal 4: U.S. Dolphin Death Toll on the Rise

In recent weeks, the number of dead dolphins washed upon the Eastern shores of the United States has been rather alarming to marine biologists and dolphin-enthusiasts alike.

The spike in bottlenose dolphin deaths has reached 300, with no signs of ceasing, according to an article on the National Geographic website.

The area of dolphin-death susceptibility has a range from the shores of New York to Virginia. One of the top theories for this high concentration of dolphin corpses along the ocean stretch is an infectious pathogen, reports the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

An airborne virus, similar to measles, caused an epidemic along the East Coast bottlenose dolphins in 1987 and 1988, “wiping out at least 900 animals and striking a major blow to that population.” Even though the experts still have no lead on the exact cause of this century’s epidemic, several of the fatally-struck dolphins have tested positive for the same virus, moribillivrius. The same group of researchers is also testing for “a variety of toxins, biotoxins, bacteria, fungi, and [other] viruses,” using the dolphins’ blood and tissue samples.

Longer-term investigations occur after the initial evaluation and basic triage, including tests of blubber and organs, such as kidneys, for traces of heavy metal. Toxic by nature, dolphins compromise their immune system because they carry a large amount of heavy metals that accumulate in their food. New man-made toxins in the ocean may not affect the dolphin species directly, but oftentimes repercussions occur because of toxins woven into the dolphins’ diet of fish.

A rather depressing reality to note is that the number of dead bodies is most likely only a small percentage of the actual death toll. The NOAA believes that many of the dolphin corpses decompose out at sea or are eaten by predators.

Reflection

This article greatly affected me and makes me deeply concerned for the Eastern coast population of bottlenose dolphins. I have always been a dolphin-lover, even before kindergarten. I remember I conducted my first grade animal research assignment on the dolphin species. One of my first career goals was to become a marine biologist, so that I could work with dolphins on a daily basis. The dolphin species greatly intrigues me, and I am continually fascinated with their high-ability intelligence and playful skills. One of my favorite memories with a dolphin was being able to witness the now-famous, tailless dolphin, Winter, in Clearwater, Florida. My family and I vacationed to Clearwater Beach and journeyed to the Clearwater Aquarium before the Hollywood movie showcased the mesmerizing comeback of Winter the dolphin. It was a moving experience, and one travel memory I will never forget. Because I love the dolphin with an immense passion, I feel horrified that a large portion of the dolphin population along the East coast is being annihilated by an unknown cause. Perhaps, the virus can be contained and be prevented from spreading across the entire coastline. I am relieved, however, that these dolphins have not been mutilated by ships or the wrath of man, at least judging by outward appearances. Thankfully, a gang of dolphin-murderers is not on the loose! I will continue to monitor the condition of these seemingly helpless dolphins and hope for a cure or solution in the meantime.

Dell’Amore, Christine. “U.S. Dolphin Deaths Rise to 300; Cause Still a Mystery.” National Geographic. N.p., 21 Aug. 2013. Web. 29 Aug. 2013.

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