Dolphin found stranded in local tributary

Published 8:05 pm Friday, August 1, 2014

VICTORIA THAYER | CONTRIBUTED STRANDED: A deceased dolphin was found on a Maules Pointe Beach last week in Blounts Creek.

STRANDED: A deceased dolphin was found on a Maules Pointe Beach last week in Blounts Creek.

BLOUNTS CREEK — A deceased dolphin was recently found stranded on the beach of a tributary on the Tar-Pamlico River Basin.

Pamlico-Tar River Foundation Riverkeeper Heather Jacobs Deck said a fisherman called the PTRF office and reported the dead dolphin on a Maules Point beach, the eastern point of Blounts Bay. Deck called the NC Division of Marine Fisheries and a Jill Sullivan, assistant to the stranding coordinator and two volunteers visited the site to examine the dolphin, which measured about 264 cm long and weighed approximately 500 pounds, said NC Division of Marine Fisheries Biologist Dr. Victoria Thayer.

Thayer said the stranding was the 49th since January. She said the dolphin’s cause of death is unknown, but it may have been attributed to an Unusual Mortality Event, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries website. From July 2013 to July 2014, a total of 258 strandings have been recorded in North Carolina. Based on preliminary diagnostic testing and discussion with disease experts, the mortality event may be caused by cetacean morbillivirus, according to the NOAA Fisheries website. However, Thayer said there is no evidence that the stranded dolphin in Blounts Creek died as a result of the virus.

“The animals that have been stranded in the Pamlico and Albemarle sounds have not tested positive for that virus,” Thayer said. “A lot of them have been mature males and there are a lot of different causes of strandings of marine mammals in general— sometimes it’s entanglement, ingestion of plastic, pollutants, natural mortality from old age, failure to thrive, propellers — we don’t know the cause for a lot of strandings. The animals that have stranded in the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds have been pretty decomposed, and we can’t run every sample because funding is limited.”

Thayer said the last outbreak of the virus, which happened during the period from  1987 to 1988, caused a lot of dolphins to wash up on shore. However, this year’s string of strandings does not necessarily mean the events are cyclical, as some think.

“Two events does not necessarilymake it a cycle,” Thayer said. “A lot of factors could play into it. We don’t have a lot of answers, but we think this die-off is winding down. We are getting reports of fewer strandedanimals and it’s hard to say it’s over until we know more.”

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