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Dolphin Deaths Hit a Historic High Thanks to the Red Tide

NOAA's calling it an unusual mortality event.

Florida's red tide is continuing to be a disaster for all kinds of marine species, from fish to sharks to birds to turtles.

Dolphins have been hit particularly hard.

According to Sarasota magazine, so many dolphins have died in such a short time span that NOAA labeled the deaths an unusual mortality event.

NOAA's Dr. Teri Rowles told Sarasota that the number of stranded and deceased dolphins is "well above historic average for this time period and geographic area."

You can see in the NOAA chart below how August, in particular, skyrocketed.


The Tech Times reported that in August, nine dolphins were found dead in just 36 hours. Fifteen died in two weeks. A whopping 49 died in just two months. In comparison, ABC 7 reported that the area usually sees 10 to 15 stranded and deceased dolphins per year.

The reason so many dolphins are dying is twofold. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, dolphins can die from inhaling the toxins produced by the algae that created the red tide.

Or they can eat food that's been contaminated by the algae.

Sarasota reported that tests done on some of the recovered dolphin bodies show that it was likely feeding that contributed to their deaths. "A majority of the deceased dolphins we've examined so far had stomachs full of food," said Gretchen Lovewell of Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium. And that food, eaten to keep them sustained and healthy, actually killed them.

According to Tech Times, it's this prey-related way of getting sick that could continue to kill dolphins even after the red tide ends.

As the toxins work their way in small levels up the food chain, dolphins will be consuming toxic prey that's consumed toxic prey that's consumed toxic prey and the toxins will accumulate in larger amounts.

It will eventually kill the dolphin if enough is ingested.

Plus, with the large fish die-offs, dolphins could struggle to find prey at all, according to the Miami Herald. This red tide could have ripple effects for Florida's dolphin community for years to come.

According to NOAA, as of September 20, 62 dolphins have stranded since the red tide began. That number is huge and way above usual reports, but so far it's thankfully not the worst red tide example of dolphin deaths.

According to the FFWCC, that record belongs to the red tide of 1987, where 740 dolphins stranded and just about as many died over the course of a year along America's Atlantic coast.

It can always be worse, but hopefully this year's red tide ends soon before the dolphin deaths have to climb into double digits.

The ocean needs a win, OK?

Add your name right now to make a difference for dolphins, whales and other marine mammals with Oceana.

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