Increased DEP patrols, use of Ewing lab to help with dolphin deaths

TRENTON – With the problem of dolphin deaths along the Jersey Shore a continuing concern, the state announced Thursday it will expand patrols and use of aircraft by Department of Environmental Protection personnel.

A state Department of Agriculture lab in Ewing will be made available to assist with testing, the DEP announced.

The Brigantine-based Marine Mammal Stranding Center had been taking the animals to a University of Pennsylvania veterinary facility, paying for the cost of testing from its own resources.  DEP will pay for the testing in Ewing.

“While we hope the disease cycle is reaching its peak in New Jersey, we really don’t know how much longer this situation will continue,” said Bob Schoelkopf, the Marine Mammal Stranding Center’s Executive Director, in a release.

Since July 9, 74 dead or dying dolphins have washed up along New Jersey’s coastline, DEP said. Twelve have been confirmed with morbillivirus, according to Schoelkopf. Another 21 have been tested for the virus, with results of those tests pending.

The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration has declared an Unusual Mortality Event due to the deaths of hundreds of dolphins off the East Coast, and this week announced that cetacean morbillivirus – which is similar to measles in humans or canine distemper in dogs – is the likely cause of the deaths. 

NOAA is providing the DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife nearly $92,000 to increase land and boat patrols to assist in the monitoring and recovery of bottlenose dolphins, DEP reported.

There is a related issue requiring public caution. Because there’s an increased risk of sharks feeding on dead or dying dolphins, Schoelkopf urged the public not to approach the animals or attempt to bring them ashore. Pets should also be kept away from them.

If a person sees a dead or dying dolphin, contact the Marine Mammal Stranding Center’s 24-hour hotline at 609-266-0538 or contact the DEP hotline at 877-WARNDEP (877-927-6337)