Dolphin's Death In Ortley Beach Under Investigation

TOMS RIVER, NJ — A dolphin that washed up on the beach in Ortley Beach Tuesday morning has been sent to a laboratory for a necropsy, authorities said.

The dead dolphin, an adult female harbor porpoise, was reported on the beach at 7:10 a.m., Toms River police said.

It is the 24th dolphin that has washed up along the New Jersey coastline dating back to Dec. 28, according to the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, which investigates and tracks the deaths of the animals.

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It is one of two harbor porpoises recorded this year; the majority of the dolphins have been common dolphins, including a pod of eight that stranded in Sea Isle City on March 21. Read more: 8 Dolphins Dead After ‘Mass Stranding Event’ At Jersey Shore

The center’s cetacean strandings page, which includes information on both whales and dolphins, had a preliminary finding for a dolphin that stranded in late January on Long Beach Island that had pneumonia and showed signs of a bacterial infection, the center said. But for the majority of the entries, a determination on the cause of death remains pending pathology results. In many of the deaths, the chart notes the dolphins had “poor body condition.”

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The dolphin deaths have alarmed people already upset about whale strandings that have happened since December. The stranding center, which only includes New Jersey data, shows 11 dead whales along New Jersey since Dec. 5.The chart here includes the species, along with data on where the whales were located and necropsy information, along with final results. It shows three dead whales that were recorded well offshore and never reached the coast. The 11 New Jersey whales are among more than two dozen, primarily humpbacks, that have stranded from New York to North Carolina.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been tracking the deaths of whales for years, with a focus on an “unusual mortality event” among humpback whales since 2016.

No such declaration has been made about the current spate of dolphin deaths in New Jersey, which are fewer than half of the number of dolphins in 2022, when 45 died, and 2017, when 43 died.

There was an unusual dolphin mortality event 10 years ago, where more than 1,600 bottlenose dolphins died between July 1, 2013, and March 1, 2015, from Maine to Florida, including 153 bottlenose dolphins in New Jersey. The majority of the deaths were due to “cetacean morbillivirus infections, which is in the same family of viruses as measles,” the NOAA report on that mortality event found. A number of the dolphins also had an underlying bacterial infection, the report said.

Those deaths in 2013 alarmed residents because of concerns about water quality.

“Dolphins swim close together in pods,” Robert Schoelkopf, who was director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in 2013 and a widely respected expert in the field. “Diseases spread between animals when they surface to breathe.”

Morbillivirus, a naturally occurring virus in dolphin populations, also was linked to a mass die-off of more than 740 dolphins in 1987, including 90 dolphins off New Jersey, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The 1987-1988, a bottlenose dolphin morbillivirus mortality event, along with a humpback whale mortality event that same year off Massachusetts and the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill was what pushed Congress “to formally establish the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, with specific instructions for the UME Program as Title IV of the Marine Mammal Protection Act,” according to the NOAA website.

Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who represents New Jersey’s 2nd District, has repeatedly called for a moratorium on offshore wind projects until investigations into its impact on marine mammals can be completed.

“It is irresponsible for federal agencies to continually tell the public that there is no connection whatsoever between offshore wind surveying and these tragic marine mammal deaths without providing actual evidence and facts backing up the assertion,” Van Drew said in a statement on the dolphin deaths.

“As we have repeatedly stated, we need to continue to base our decisions on data, science, and evidence – not conjecture. NOAA, BOEM, and the independent Marine Mammal Commission have all gone on the record to state there is no evidence of a connection between the strandings and offshore wind activities,” Alison McLeod, policy director at the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, said in a release. McLeod has experience as a professional marine mammal observer, an environmental consultant specializing in whales and dolphins, along with background in marine science and biology. Read more: Van Drew Asks Congress To Halt Offshore Wind At Jersey Shore

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With reporting by Veronica Flesher

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