BRIGANTINE, N.J. – Once upon a time, he was known as Capt. Bob, the man who trained the dolphins and seals to perform for crowds in Atlantic City. But as he got to know the dolphins, Bob Schoelkopf renounced keeping them in captivity and devoted the rest of his life to rescuing stranded marine mammals.
Now the man who once prodded dolphins to jump and wave their fins for crowds is part of a broad scientific effort to determine why dolphins are dying by the hundreds.
Its worst when you get a female come ashore and shes lactating and you see the milk come out onto the stretcher, said Schoelkopf, co-director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center. That means theres a baby out there swimming around without a mother.
So far this summer, there have been about 230 dolphin deaths along the East Coast, prompting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to declare an unusual mortality event.
No definitive conclusions have been reached, but many suspect the morbilli virus. This year, several of the dolphins that washed ashore in New Jersey have tested positive for the virus.
Wednesday morning, the stranding center got a call about a dead dolphin that washed ashore, the 62nd in New Jersey this year.
Two hours later, another dead dolphin, No. 63, washed up in Spring Lake.
One recent day in New Jersey, a dolphin came ashore at 1 a.m., was euthanized at 3 a.m., and staffers had just gotten home into their beds when another dolphin washed ashore at 6 a.m.