At least 22 dolphins have washed up dead along the New Jersey Shore over 21 days. How they died remains a mystery.
The most recent dolphin was reported in Margate Thursday morning.
The deaths should not be lumped together, cautioned Robert Schoelkopf, founding director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine.
Two dolphins, he said, sustained injuries from netting, most likely from a commercial fishery. It is not clear whether the dolphins were still alive when they tangled in the netting.
But others have tested positive for potentially fatal diseases, Schoelkopf added. So far, four of the dolphins have tested positive for viral pneumonia and one had morbillivirus, an infection responsible for the worst known dolphin die-off on the East Coast in 1987.
Schoelkopf said the deaths since July 9 mark the most in as many days since that morbillivirus outbreak.
“In three months, we had 90 animals come ashore … they estimated at least half the dolphin population of the East Coast died,” he said.
The 21 dolphins range in size and age, and have surfaced in Monmouth, Ocean, Cape May, and Atlantic counties.
Investigators at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center in Chester County are currently examining the body of each dolphin, but Schoelkopf said a backlog would likely slow the process.