Biologists: Number of beached animals "unusually high"

Myrtle Beach, SC - MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – According to marine biologists, South Carolina has seen an unusually high amount of beached animals during the month of March.

According to Wayne McFee of NOAA, 14 animals - including whales and dolphins - have come ashore on beaches around the state in the past month. McFee says that's the most cases they've had in the month of March in the past 17 years.

Now, researchers are working to learn what's causing those incidents and if they point to a bigger problem.

Dr. Robert Young, a marine biologist at Coastal Carolina University, says one of the reasons could be the unusually long winter in the state this year.

Young says that because of the longer winter, whales and dolphins aren't able to find fish, and therefore get sick and wash up on shore; however, he says that things should return to normal.

"I think it won't be too long before the fish are coming back in big numbers and I think all this will sort itself out pretty soon," explained Young. "It's late in the year, so if it has been a tough winter, this is when you'd really start to see it hitting sort of right before the fish come back, so I suspect this won't last too long."

Young says the most common stranding in the state is the bottlenose dolphin, followed by the pygmy sperm whale. He adds that statewide, there's usually an average of about one stranding a week, but lately, South Carolina has been seeing much more than that.

McFee also adds that ocean debris might be another cause of the problem, noting that the beach whale found in Georgetown this past weekend had swallowed a piece of plastic.

McFee says that if a dolphin or whale swallows a plastic bag, it could be deadly. He adds it's a good reminder to throw trash in the garbage and not in the ocean.

Copyright 2010 WMBF News. All rights reserved.