A record number of dolphins washed ashore following the recent nor'easter, according to estimates by a local sea mammal stranding group.
“This week was outrageous,” said Suzanne Thurman, executive director of Marine Education, Research and Rehabilitation Institute. “This is the most we've ever had.”
On Monday, Thurman was trying to catch up after tending to 18 bottle-nosed dolphin strandings and five loggerhead turtles – all found dead this past week along a coastline stretching from Kitts Hummock on the Delaware Bay down to Fenwick Island, she said.
“This is more than we get in a year,” she said.
Moving dolphins that weigh several hundred pounds and burying them is backbreaking work, she said. One of the dolphins found Oct. 14 was lodged against a rock jetty, which made moving it extra tricky for volunteers.
Normally, she said, her group logs in about a dozen dolphin strandings a year. Already this year, there have been 67; the total sea mammal strandings has been about 200.
Most dolphin strandings occurred in August when 58 dolphins died from the morbillivirus, she said. However, Thurman said, they do not know whether the latest dolphin deaths can be attributed to the virus. The dolphins were found in advanced stages of decomposition, and they could not be tested, she said.
The virus found in the earlier dolphins is a similar to measles found in humans and distemper in dogs.
The virus is not contagious to humans, but Thurman warns people to stay away from stranded dolphins because they could have other harmful contagions. Thurman asks anyone who finds a stranded dolphin or sea mammal to call MERR at 228-5029.
Although the storm has passed, Thurman said, she expects more strandings throughout the week.
“I think there will be some that haven't been discovered yet,” she said.
For more information, go to merrinstitute.org.