NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — Federal officials are investigating what’s causing an unusually high number of bottlenose dolphins to wash up on the East Coast this summer, with many of them showing up on beaches already badly decomposed.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says 124 dolphins have been found dead in the Mid-Atlantic region since early July, causing the federal agency to declare an unusual mortality event for the mammals.

That declaration means an international group of scientists will have access to additional funding to study what’s causing the problem. That investigation and analysis could take months or even years to finalize.

Officials say the spike in strandings began in early July, with dead dolphins reported in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. The dolphins live in temperate and tropical waters worldwide.

Virginia has experienced the largest increase in dolphin strandings this year, with more than 45 in July. That’s compared with a historic average of seven. Throughout the region, officials say there are seven times as many strandings compared with historic averages.

NOAA says dolphins of all ages have been affected. Necropsies haven’t revealed a unifying pattern, although an infections pathogen is considered a likely cause.

Investigators plan to take blood and tissue samples and test them for infectious agents such as viruses, bacteria and fungi, as well as non-infectious agents such as biotoxins.

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