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Federal Wildlife Officials Step In To Investigate Red Tide Dolphin Deaths In Florida

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries has issued a guideline on how to report and help stranded or floating dolphins in Florida.

The effort is a response to the alarming number of dolphins that have died in the U.S. Southwest coast, including in the counties of Collier, Charlotte, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Sarasota, and Pinellas since July.

Red Tide Killing Local Dolphin Population

The federal wildlife officials have declared an Unusual Mortality Event (EME), which "involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population" that demands immediate response, in Southwest Florida. In November, a red tide was confirmed, but although there were dolphin deaths, the number remained in the normal range.

However, beginning in July, the number of the death of the marine mammals in connection to the red tide has doubled. In August, nine bottleneck dolphins were found in Sarasota County alone within 36 hours. Across the Southwest coast, 15 bottleneck dolphins reportedly died within two weeks.

The unprecedented deaths of dolphins in Florida are alarming experts and posing a health threat to the locals. Governor Rick Scott already declared a state of emergency because of the red tide.

The dinoflagellate (Karenia brevis) found at low levels in Gulf waters is responsible for the red tide. Experts who have examined several corpses of dolphins have confirmed that the deaths were related to the red tide.

"In red tide events, we know the animals often die acutely with high levels of brevetoxins in their bodies and in their stomachs," stated veterinarian Teri Rowles. "But  ... even when the bloom is gone we may see an increase in mortality."

Florida has experienced a similar red tide event from 2005 to 2006, killing multispecies, including 190 dolphins.

How To Help Floating/Stranded Dolphins

The best way to help a stranded or floating dolphin is to report sightings to authorities. In case an animal is stranded on the beach, whether dead or alive, call the Southeast Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline (877-942-5343/877-WHALE HELP).

NOAA is instructing bystanders not to approach or touch dolphins until rescuers arrive because they might be dangerous or might be carrying a disease. Authorities are also imploring everyone not to push a dolphin back to water even if it is still alive because it might be sick or injured.

People can help by keeping the animal moist and cool by splashing water over its body or by using wet towels. Check that the blowhole is also not obstructed, but only when it is safe (stay away from head and tail).

Keep crowds away from the animal and encourage everyone to be a little quieter in order to avoid causing further distress to the stranded mammal.

A stranded or dead dolphin are federally protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Do not harm not collect any parts of the animal.

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