As the bodies of dozens of dolphins continue to wash ashore across the east coast, researchers are scrambling to pinpoint the cause of these tragic deaths and take whatever steps are necessary to save the Atlantic dolphin populations.
Among those coming to the dolphins’ aid is Bob Schoelkopf, once a trainer who prepared dolphins and seals to perform at shows in Atlantic City. He would teach crowd-pleasing tricks like jumps and flipper-waving and often poked and prodded the animals with long poles. However, as Schoelkopf developed a deeper understanding of and respect for the animals, he realized the cruelty of the shows and forever renounced the life of an animal trainer. He said “I didn’t want to work with captive dolphins anymore. It wasn’t right for them to do 13 shows a day and never see sunlight.”
Now, Schoelkopf is on a mission to end the mysterious dolphin deaths that are baffling researchers. As the Co-Director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, Schoelkopf has great love and empathy for the dolphins’ situation. He said “It’s worst when you get a female come ashore [dead] and she’s lactating… That means there’s a baby out there swimming around without a mother. That baby is going to become shark bait.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has declared an unusual mortality event due to the roughly 230 dolphins who have been found dead along the east coast since the beginning of July. Although the cause has not yet been discovered, researchers suspect the deaths may be caused by the morbilli virus, which resulted in the deaths of 740 dolphins back in 1987.
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