Lots of dead fish and a dolphin wash up mysteriously on OBX beaches

Posted at 12:01 AM, Mar 19, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-19 00:01:50-04

COROLLA, N.C. – A large number of dead fish and a dead dolphin have washed up on the beaches of the Outer Banks over the past few days.

Locals have reported that the stretch of dead fish runs for approximately three miles in the Corolla area.

“Last night it was probably a mile long, and then when we were taking our kids to school this morning it is now about three miles long,” Jeff Kelly said to WTKR reporter Todd Carillo.

“I don’t know what’s causing it, but I would like to know why,’ he said. “This is my home. I want to know why this is happening. My kids play on this beach.”

Some have questioned if a sonic boom recorded by the U.S. Government, at six kilometer southeast of Nags Head at 4: 24 p.m. on Monday, March 16, had anything to do with the fish deaths.

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Division of Water Resources manages fish kill activity in the state. Environmental Senior Specialist Jill Paxson with the Division of Water Resources said she hasn’t seen the fish kill nor gotten reports of it, but said they are typically caused by one of two factors.

One is netting from commercial fishermen who are permitted to discard certain fish that they are not targeting. These fish are then sometimes brought ashore by the winds. The other common cause is a water quality event with a drop in dissolved oxygen. This can happen after a heavy rain with a lot of sediment, or a localized algae bloom.

Paxson said that without being there, she couldn’t say for sure what would cause this particular event, but did say that a dolphin also washing up was “interesting.”

Jane Kepler, Wildlife Education Specialist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission first responded to reports of the stranded dolphin around 11a.m. Tuesday.

She said the dolphin was an adult male that was healthy, aside from a chunk taken from its right side. That could have possibly been a shark bite, but it’s still unknown whether that happened before or after the dolphin died. A necropsy will be performed to determine an exact cause of death.

The dolphin was a “common dolphin,” which is actually a quite uncommon sight for the Outer Banks. Common dolphins are an offshore species that roam in large groups. Most of the dolphins seen in the Outer Banks are Bottlenose dolphins.

Researchers say at this point, there’s no way to tell if the fish kill and the dolphin stranding are related or just a coincidence.