Federal researchers investigate dolphin deaths

Editor's Note: Researchers have identifed the cause of this ongoing unusual mortality event as a morbillivirus. For details, visit

Cause of “unusual mortality event” in Mid-Atlantic remains unknown

As unusually large numbers of dead Bottlenose dolphins continue to wash ashore in states from New York to Virginia, researchers with NOAA's Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program are looking for answers through testing of various animals for a variety of toxins, biotoxins, bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Some of these tests take weeks to complete.

The researchers operate under the umbrella of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, the lead agency for coordinating activities related to the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Stranded dolphins are collected for study by volunteer stranding networks in each coastal state, with Virginia’s Stranding Center headquartered at the Virginia Aquarium in Virginia Beach.

A stranded Bottlenose dolphin on a New Jersey beach. Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Stranding Center.The Virginia Institute of Marine Science shares the public's concern about this ongoing mortality event but currently has no official role in the collection or study of stranded marine mammals in the Commonwealth or elsewhere.

Where to go for information
To report a stranding
  • If you see a marine mammal that appears to be sick or dead, call the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Center (VAQS) Hotline, 757-385-7575. If you are out of cell phone range, radio the US Coast Guard via VHF Channel 16. They can then contact VAQS.