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'Unusual Mortality Event' Happening With Humpback Whales

BRIGANTINE, N.J. (CBS) -- The Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine is among the experts called to action this week, when the federal government announced there is an "unusual mortality event" happening with humpback whales.

In a normal year an average of 14 humpbacks wash up along the East Coast – in the last 16 months there have been 41.

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"They want to know why they died, so what they're asking all of us to do is when we have an animal wash up we have to a complete physical on it," says MMSC founding director Bob Schoelkopf.

NOAA officials say the number of humpbacks hit by ships has dramatically increased despite no real change in traffic patterns, but many also look like they're dying from some kind of illness.

"They're seeing these animals washing up with no apparent external injuries so that's the question and that's why it's a UME because no one has answers yet," says Schoelkopf.

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Last September, a juvenile humpback washed up before a large crowd in Sea Isle City.

The MMSC also responded to dead humpbacks in early 2017 on federal land north of Brigantine at in the Delaware Bay.

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