How scientists determine cause of death for dolphins, other mammals
SEA ISLE CITY, N.J. (CBS) -- The Marine Mammal Stranding Center announced late Tuesday afternoon the eight dolphins that washed ashore in Sea Isle City will be sent to the New Jersey Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratory for necropsies.
Hours before the announcement, CBS Philadelphia received an exclusive behind-the-scenes look inside the lab to see how scientists work to determine the cause of death for dolphins and marine mammals.
"In general, we have seen an uptick in the dolphins and marine mammals that are submitted to our lab," Dr. Amar Patil, the director of the New Jersey Department of Agriculture's Division of Animal Health, said. "It's really important that we stay on top of these mortalities in animals because it provides us cues on any threats that are out there."
When a dead dolphin arrives at the lab, workers like Alexander Morales perform a necropsy on the animal, cutting it open, performing a physical exam and taking tissue samples to place under a microscope.
"It's really sad, but again, this happens every year," Morales said. "We get strandings every year."
Neither Dr. Patil nor anyone from the lab would speculate on the cause of death for the eight dolphins that ended up beached on Sea Isle City until proper testing is completed.
Even then, the lab's test results are confidential. They are only reported to whoever requests the lab's services, which, in the case of the Sea Isle City dolphins, would be the Marine Mammal Stranding Center.
The center said it typically takes months before it receives final necropsy results.
Dr. Patil emphasized the lab's only goal is to follow science.
"Animal health, public health, and animal welfare is our top priority," Dr. Patil said. "We have really hard-working employees, the state employees, that contribute to our mission every day."
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