Scientists Have Figured Out What's Behind Dolphin Die-offs

Scientists Have Figured Out What's Behind Dolphin Die-offs

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BRIGANTINE, N.J. -

Anthony Zoppel isn't just fishing for striper. He's also fishing for answers, specifically, what's killing dolphins on New Jersey beaches.

"I fish here every weekend really. It's sad," he says.

Two more dolphins washed up in Stone Harbor over the weekend. Another washed up yesterday in Cape May.

"It's just sad to hear. Every other day or so you hear more dolphins washing up and it is a little scary that you don't know what's causing it," says Kristen Perlman of Brigantine.

This summer, more than 70 dolphins washed up in New Jersey alone. Nearly 500 up and down the East Coast. The mortality rate is nine times higher than average. Tonight, we finally have an answer. Federal officials say that the morbillivirus is to blame.

"Healthy animals will survive and weaker animals with other ailments will perish," says Bob Schoelkpt.

Bob Schoelkopf, the Director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, says that 37 dolphin carcasses have been taken to University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Veterinary Center in Chester County for testing. Tissue and teeth samples confirmed that the diagnosis was a virus.

Scientists know what's causing dolphins to be killed; unfortunately, they can't do anything about it. In fact they anticipate more dead dolphins to wash up on South Jersey beaches.

"I don't think there's anything anyone can do about it because it's a virus that we can't go out and inoculate every dolphin," says Bob Schoelkopf.

The same virus killed more than 700 dolphins in a similar kill off in 1987. The virus eventually ran it's course.

"I was worried that it would hit the fish we catch; flounder, blue fish striper who knows, it can go from fish to fish," says Anthony Zoppel of Marlton, New Jersey.

Experts say that the morbillivirus cannot spread to humans, but if you see a dolphin in the water, do not go near it.

"We had a problem in Stone Harbor where the lifeguards actually went out to the floating dead animal. Our biggest fear is that there are sharks underneath the water feeding on those animals," says Bob Schoelkopf.

Right now, marine scientists have no idea what causes the virus, but they have ruled out effects from Superstorm Sandy.

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