Since Feb. 1 of this year, 261 dolphins have stranded in the Gulf of Mexico. What could be leading the creatures to their deaths?

Dolphin Strandings

There have been bottlenose dolphin strandings in the Gulf of Mexico, including Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana since Feb. 1, and in numbers that are three times higher than the average. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-Fisheries, it is too early to say what is causing the strandings, but the agency has declared it an Unusual Mortality Event.

Many of the dolphin carcasses are already very decomposed, which is making it hard for experts to take samples to determine the creatures’ cause of death. However, some of the dolphins were found to have skin lesions consistent with freshwater exposure, so it is also possible that changes in the water’s salinity level may be an important factor, especially since bottlenose dolphins are typically found in waters with high salinity.

As such, scientists are also investigating whether the strandings are connected to salinity changes from high rivers, the opening of a Louisiana spillway, or the lingering effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

What To Do With Stranded Dolphins

Members of the public can also help with the investigation by calling in any sightings of dolphins that are in distress or have stranded. Sightings can be reported to the U.S. Coastguard, the Southeast Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 877-WHALE HELP, or via the Dolphin and Whale 911 app.

People are reminded not to try and push the animal back to the sea as this may delay rescue and treatment efforts, and the creatures may just come back to the shore in even worse conditions. In fact, people should not even come close to the animal or try to interact with it, but it is important to keep the animal company until rescuers arrive.

If the creature is still alive, do not cover its blowhole, and keep it moist by splashing water over its body to prevent sunburn.

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