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THE TURSIOPS MYSTERY / Lois Wingerson AFTER SEEING SO MUCH wretched debris, Bob Schoelkopf found it jarring to encounter a corpse that looked beautiful. It had washed ashore alive at Lewes, Delaware, just before noon, and expired as someone tried to move it. This death raised the body count to thirty, in six weeks. The corpse arrived in Cape May at 5:00 on July 30, 1987, on the flatbed of a pickup truck aboard the ferry from Lewes. Now it lay motionless on a bed of ice, seven feet long and sleek. Like the others, it appeared to be smiling. In most such cases, the body was so far gone that Schoelkopf could smell the death. A post-mortem would be worse than useless. But this body was nearly perfect: robust, not at all emaciated. There were a few open sores, but the bulk of the flesh was taut and firm. It was obviously dead, but it was not at all obvious why. Gently, Schoelkopf and another man shifted the body onto a stretcher and transferred it to the back of Schoelkopf's pickup. Then he sped away from the ferry terminal and north on the Garden State Parkway, toward the rolling landscape of northern New Jersey. At about 8:00 that evening, he reached Douglas Roscoe's pathology lab near the town of Clinton. For the rest of the evening, Roscoe and Schoelkopf labored over the remains from Lewes, which were laid across a stainless steel table in the middle of the tiled laboratory. It took Roscoe four hours of steady work to render the dead body into the contents of a gallon jar. It must have been the first exhaustive necropsy in the history of the bottle-nosed dolphin. For weeks, the sea had been flinging dozens of these marine mammals onto New Jersey's beaches, dead or near death. Bob Schoelkopf makes it his business to rescue stranded marine mammals, and he was probably the quickest to recognize in 1987 that bottle-nosed dolphins were dying en masse, but he is not trained to address the question why. Roscoe, an animal pathologist, was the first to pursue the dolphins' killer systematically. The victims went by the name of Tursiops truncatus. Order Cetacea, family Delphininae. Loosely speaking, a sort of small whale common (or, perhaps, formerly common) off the eastern United States. Like all cetaceans, they are warm-blooded mammals that give milk and breathe air. Tursiops is familiar to anyone who has seen an aquarium show: Shiny skin devoid of fur, dark above and white below, with two flippers, a dorsal fin and a broad tail or fluke. Its face is The Missouri Review · 33 remarkably appealing to human beings, because its mouth extends back towards its eyes in what people instinctively (and mistakenly) read as a smile. In general, dolphins are gregarious animals which prefer to live in large, stable communities. Like dogs and chimpanzees, they make friends with each other. Free-living dolphins also seem to enjoy contact with humans. A dolphin known as Pelorus Jack followed ships off New Zealand for thirty-two years, frolicking in their wakes. In Australia, wild dolphins have learned to drive fish ashore to the natives of Moretón Bay, in exchange for a fish presented on a spear. In captivity, the species is normally very hardy. The first Tursiops taken into captivity in the United States were captured at a fishery off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, in November 1913. They then traveled for five days out of water, by oxcart, rowboat, ferry, wagon and train. All five dolphins reached the New York Aquarium alive, and survived from five to fifteen years afterwards. In the United States, Tursiops are regarded, for all practical purposes, as a domesticated species. They perform on television, and in movies and marine shows, where they are the most popular feature. Humans seem to enjoy watching dolphins imitate clowns—pretending to sing, wearing party hats, and "dancing" on their flukes. Dolphins are also trained to perform various clandestine functions for the US Navy. Bob Schoelkopf first encountered Tursiops before he went to Vietnam, during night exercises with the Marines off North Carolina. His job was...


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