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More dolphins are washing ashore on Delaware beaches

Katie Peikes
Delaware Public Media
MERR Institute Executive Director Suzanne Thurman examines a dead dolphin at Pickering Beach in 2017.

Twenty dolphins have washed ashore on Delaware beaches so far this year, raising a red flag for an environmental group.

The 20 dolphins have washed ashore at various beaches, including Bethany Beach and Slaughter Beach.

A dolphin calf washed ashore in Bethany June 20. Three months ago, a dolphin with a slash in its flesh washed ashore in Slaughter Beach, Mayor Harry Ward said. The slash likely resulted from a propeller damage, the Marine Education Research and Rehabilitation Institute determined.

The town held a burial for the mammal.

MERR Institute Executive Director Suzanne Thurman said 19 of the 20 dolphins that washed ashore this year are Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. One is unknown.

The number of strandings are keeping volunteers on alert, Thurman said. It’s unclear if they are all connected to a specific cause.

“That’s what we will strive to identify, if indeed there is a common link and what that might be and whether that can be connected to anything,” Thurman said.

Thurman calls the number “moderately higher than average,” but said it is hard to predict how many strandings they’ll see the rest of the year.

“For all I know, we’ll go through the entirety of the summer into fall and not see another stranding, so I can’t predict that,” she said.

Thurman said the MERR Institute has alerted colleagues in other states as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the number of dolphin strandings in Delaware this year.

Twelve dolphins stranded on Delaware beaches in 2017.

NOAA investigated a spike in bottlenose dolphin strandings along the Atlantic Coast between 2013 to 2015.

Officials determined a virus significantly affected the population during that time frame.

Dolphins tend to hang out along Delaware’s coast from summer into fall. Thurman said they are taking care of their young and feeding.

According to general viewing guidelines from NOAA, beachgoers should keep a distance of about 50 yards – about a half of a football field  – away from a dolphin.

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