If you see a struggling or dead dolphin along the New Jersey coast, stay away from it.

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That is just one of the warnings coming from marine experts in the state after 22 dead dolphins washed up over a period of 21 days.

"We've been picking the animals up and taking them to the University of Pennsylvania for pathology reports. So far, four have come back and they've tested positive for viral pneumonia," said Bob Schoelkopf, Founding Director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine.

Earlier reports that there were concerns about commercial fishing playing a role in the deaths have been unfounded.

"It's been determined that the injuries that we've seen on some of these dolphins happened post-mortem. When these animals are floating, they are low profile in the water and a boat moving at a high rate of speed may not see them and could run right over them."

Pneumonia is one of many different ailments that dolphins can be stricken with.

"The unusual thing here is the number of animals in such a short period of time. That is a concern to us," said Schoelkopf. "That's why every animal that we can possibly take to the lab is being investigated. They are family oriented animals that travel in large groups. Pneumonia is something that can be spread from one animal to the other simply through exhaling and inhaling because they swim so close together."

If you see a stranded or struggling dolphin, Schoelkopf suggests you to take the following steps:

  • Call the 24 hour hotline immediately at 609-266-0538
  • Don't let your dogs or other pets near the animal
  • Don't let your children near the animals and don't take pictures of your children on them
  • Don't go into the surf to try to save one

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has sent alerts to marine experts along the East Coast as part of an effort to figure out what is causing the deaths of unusually high numbers of bottlenose dolphins.

The last time a high number of the animals died off on the East Coast was in 1987 and 1988 when a virus similar to the measles killed nearly 750 dolphins between New Jersey and Florida.