Bottlenose dolphins off the East Coast are suffering what officials have dubbed an "unusual mortality event." There have been 124 strandings reported between Virginia and New York since July, with 89 occurring in that month—a figure some seven times higher than July's usual death rate, the New York Times reports. The past week alone has seen 35 deaths, and the National Marine Fisheries Service is devoting extra resources to investigating. "This is the highest number that we have had for this time of year since 1987," says a researcher.
Dead dolphins have been appearing mostly in the lower Chesapeake Bay. Officials have discovered that at least one of the stranded animals likely had morbillivirus, a disease similar to measles, USA Today reports. That affected dolphins during an outbreak of strandings in 1987 and 1988, and some of the recently stranded animals have similar symptoms. But "there is no smoking gun yet," the researcher says, and the Times notes other stranded dolphins were afflicted with pneumonia. A word of warning from the AP: Humans and dolphins share common pathogens, so anyone who spots a dead or dying dolphin is advised not to touch. (Read more dolphins stories.)