TODAY   |  August 21, 2013

Dying dolphins along East Coast a mystery

Nearly 230 dolphins have washed ashore this year from New York to Virginia, and scientists are working feverishly to determine what is killing them. NBC’s Craig Melvin reports.

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>> mystery playing out all along the east coast . what's causing so many dolphins to die. craig melvin is in new jersey with the story. good morning to you.

>> reporter: good morning to you. this is a mystery plaguing scientists. hundreds of dolphins washed up on to beaches and sandbars up and down the eastern seaboard since july including several dolphins here in new jersey. scientists are feverishly trying to figure out what's killing them. a maritime mystery along the east coast . what is killing dozens of dolphins ? according to a federal report, nearly 230 dolphins washed ashore this year from new york to virginia . that's more than twice as many in all of last year and scientists aren't sure why.

>> we came down earlier this week to help in the investigation.

>> reporter: in virginia , veteran scientists from the smithsonian are collecting tissue samples to look for any common links.

>> this event is frightfully similar to an event that occurred in 1987 .

>> reporter: back then more than 750 dolphins washed up along the east coast . it was determined that a virus similar to measles in humans was the cause.

>> since the dolphins are mammals the same way we are, we have to really pay attention to what's going on with them.

>> reporter: according to the marine mammal stranding system some could be dying of viral pneumonia. experts are relying on the public asking anyone who along the beach or boat who may see a dolphin acting strangely, circling in the same area or pacing within a short span to report it.

>> we rely on the public for the reporting of these dolphins .

>> reporter: they say if a team can get to a sick dolphin before it beaches itself they can get a better idea of what's killing them so maybe they can save others.

>> now, noaa is in the process of collecting data from these beach stranding teams in new jersey and new york and delaware, maryland, virginia as well. and they're trying to determine whether what's happening to the dolphins constitutes an inusual mortality event. that is an important distinction. if that's the case the federal agency is eligible for more money and more resources to help investigate.