WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- Red tide is suspected of killing 41 dolphins in Southern Florida prompting federal officials to take action while widespread fish kills extend to five counties.
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) described this as an “unusual mortality event” in a briefing on Friday.
- The agency has been gathering resources to investigate the ongoing deaths linked to the algae bloom.
Wildlife officials started an investigation after 41 dolphin deaths were recorded off Southwest Florida in August alone. Red tide is suspected of killing the dolphins and other marine life across five counties.
Teri Rowles, a veterinarian and coordinator for NOAA’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Program, reported that of the 10 carcasses that have been examined so far, all were found to have high levels of the red tide toxin, suggesting that all deaths were caused by the bloom.
Since the 1990s, four similar occurrences of dolphin deaths in the Gulf between 2005 and 2006 were declared by the agency. Three occurred in the Panhandle and one, a 17-month long intense red tide that spread across the entire west coast that left 283 dolphins dead.
In October last year, Sarasota’s Mote Marine Lab researchers confirmed algae bloom that left beaches littered and canals clogged by carcasses of dead fish and sea turtles by June. Throughout much of the algae bloom, dolphin deaths remained in the normal range, with 1 reported in November, and 2 dozens in the following months up to July. But in July, eight deaths were reported, doubling the historic average, followed by the massive 41 deaths in August, according to Erin Fougeres, NOAA’s stranding coordinator for the southeast region.
Dolphin deaths usually follow after other marine life because of the food they eat, compared to the sea turtles and fish poisoned by the water, says Rowles.
From the eight known subpopulations of dolphins in the Gulf, only one is coastal and well-documented. Dolphins have a long lifespan with some females reaching up to 60 years. Pregnancy takes 12 months and nursing their babies would reach up to 20 months. They give birth every 3-6 years only. Based on this, Laura Engleby, the branch chief for the Southeast Region Marine Mammal Program, stated that in the long run, the red tide can have an impact on the dolphin populations in the Gulf.
Red tide is a natural phenomenon caused by Karenia brevis, a microscopic single-celled organism unique to the Gulf of Mexico. It releases a powerful neurotoxin that can be airborne. It is usually found in low levels year-round, but once it multiplies, marine animals may inhale it or die from eating fish and seagrass laced with neurotoxins.
Dolphins may take a longer time to recover if the fish they consume are totally wiped out by the tide outbreak, according to Rowles. She added that “the food web needs to recover first,” before the dolphins do.
To help with the investigation, researchers are asking anyone who finds a dead or sick dolphin, or one behaving strangely, to call NOAA’s emergency number at 1-877-WHALE HELP (1-877-942-5343).
Source: Miami Herald