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Dolphin Mortality Events Prompt More Patrols


Bottlenose dolphin stranding in NJ. Photo: Marine Mammal Stranding Center

In response to an unusual mortality event along the Atlantic Coast, NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement and Office of Protected Resources worked together to increase state partner patrols in areas identified as needing increased scrutiny. Since July 1, 2013, 430 dolphins have stranded along the east coast.

NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement was able to allocate funds to its state partners for their assistance as part of its Cooperative Enforcement Program (CEP). The program aims to increase living marine resource conservation, endangered species protection, and critical habitat enforcement while strengthening state and territorial enforcement resources. The main vehicles for implementing this program are Joint Enforcement Agreements, where a state or territory agrees to conduct specific marine conservation enforcement work on behalf of NOAA in exchange for a corresponding level of funding, training, and support.

NOAA currently has agreements with 27 states, territories, and commonwealths. The primary goal of these agreements is to enhance enforcement of federal laws and regulations while improving the ability of the partner agencies to perform their routine marine conservation obligations.

In this instance, an amendment was issued to states on the East Coast providing funds for increased at-sea and land-based patrols to identify dolphin strandings associated with this unusual mortality event.

Timely discovery of stranded animals provides an opportunity for standing network responders to get to the site and collect fresh specimens. Quality data collection increases the chances of identifying the underlying cause of the stranding.

Based on the evidence collected to date, the dolphin strandings are believed to be attributed to cetacean morbillivirus. The investigation into these strandings continues, and further evaluations will be conducted as more strandings occur. For more information on the mortality event, visit NOAA Fisheries’ Protected Resources website, which will include weekly updates throughout the investigation.

If you encounter a stranded marine mammal, immediately call your local marine mammal stranding network. The network will send trained responders to evaluate the animal and take the next appropriate steps.


Story by John Thibodeau, communications specialist for NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement. To contact him, please call 301-427-8234 or email