More than 260 bottlenose dolphins have died in a series of strandings up and down the Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle to Louisiana since January, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The numbers are three times higher than normal, NOAA officials said, and they have now opened an investigation into what the agency calls an unusual mortality event.
“It is too early to determine any potential causes of the UME. Many of the dolphins recovered are very decomposed, limiting the ability to collect samples to determine cause of illness or death,” NOAA said on its website.
Also contributing to the problem of pinpointing a cause for the dolphins deaths is the fact that a number have stranded in remote locations, making it difficult to examine or recover the carcasses for testing.
.@NOAAFisheries declares an ‘Unusual Mortality Event’ involving increased strandings of bottlenose dolphins in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Elevated strandings of bottlenose dolphins began in Feb. 2019 and are continuing: https://t.co/9KzXMSgssU pic.twitter.com/GlQJVh3DA4— NOAA Fisheries (@NOAAFisheries) June 14, 2019
Officials said some of the dolphins that have been recovered had visible skin lesions that are consistent with exposure to fresh water. Dolphins are usually found in water with high salinity or salt levels.
Investigators are looking into a range of potential reasons for the dolphin strandings, including too much freshwater spilling into the Gulf from a wet winter, problems with the animals’ food supply and even a lingering impact from the widespread 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
NOAA officials are asking people to report any sightings of stranded dolphins to authorities.
Alarming lingering effects from the BP Oil Spill in 2010: Mississippi had 121 dolphin strandings as of Wednesday, with 89 in Louisiana, 32 in Alabama and 37 in Florida, Erin Fougères, administrator for the marine mammal stranding program in NOAA Fisheries https://t.co/ct2gEl3Ttp— Taylor Patrick Biehl (@TaylorBiehl) June 15, 2019
“Hundreds of dolphins have died along Gulf Coast since February, scientists say”#Environment #dolphins #stranded #deathrate #scientists #NOAA #Science #investigate #whales #strandings https://t.co/U8u7rPuOz2— Oceans Daily (@Oceans_Daily) June 16, 2019
It's #MarineMammalRescueDay! Our marine mammal rescue team is strategically located on Cape Cod, MA—known for the most frequent dolphin strandings in the world. If you come across a stranded dolphin, keep 150 ft away & contact local experts. Details here➡ https://t.co/D5o7Q61YXy pic.twitter.com/joLWQul1KA— ifaw (@action4ifaw) April 27, 2019
“Mixed species strandings might also show that some major underwater disturbance has occurred out to sea such as naval exercises, use of powerful sonar or loud underwater explosions" https://t.co/ZytHLBNic8 #whales #dolphins— Blue Planet Society (@Seasaver) November 29, 2018
© 2019 Cox Media Group.