New Jersey is extending its resources to respond to the bottlenose dolphin deaths this summer off the East Coast

A dolphin that washed up onto a beach in Wildwood Crest on Thursday. (Marine Mammal Stranding Center via Facebook)

On Thursday, Gov. Chris Christie by directing additional state resources toward the investigation of dolphin deaths.Since July 9, 74 dead or dying dolphins have washed up along New Jersey's coastline.

The State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will deploy aircraft to monitor the situation and expand patrols by its conservation officers. The DEP will also pay for the testing of the dolphins at the Department of Agriculture's Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratory in Ewing Township.

The Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine had been taking the animals to a University of Pennsylvania veterinary facility, paying for the cost of testing from its own resources.

"The lab will continue to do the necropsies and the testing to help determine, I guess firm up the cause of the die-offs," said Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the DEP.  'It'll give us a better understanding maybe at some point in the future as to how to deal with this particular disease."

Federal officials suspect the cause is a naturally occurring disease cycle affecting populations of the marine mammals from New York to Virginia. An Unusual Mortality Event has been declared by The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) due to the deaths, and this week announced that cetacean morbillivirus, which is similar to measles in humans or canine distemper in dogs, is the likely cause. The virus was behind a similar die-off in 1987-1988.

NOAA, through a Joint Enforcement Agreement with New Jersey, is providing the DEP's Division of Fish and Wildlife nearly $92,000 to increase land and boat patrols to assist in the monitoring and recovery of bottlenose dolphins.

"Fortunately, the federal investigation into the dolphin deaths is making significant progress," said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin. "The Christie Administration is committed to doing everything we can to assist in this investigation, and to helping the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in their work to respond to this sad situation."

After announcing the steps the state would be taking, Christie sent out a tweet yesterday reading, "We're not going to watch as more dolphins die along the shore. Today, we're taking actions to figure out the problem."