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Red Tide Poisoning Suspected In The Latest String of Dolphin Deaths

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Terry Ross/Flickr
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An alarmingly high number of dead marine life has been washing up on Southwest Florida Beaches since Nov. 21. In Lee and Collier counties, 39 bottlenose dolphins had washed ashore as of Wednesday afternoon.

Several times a week, Greg Harchuska goes to the beach with a metal detector to search for treasures while getting his doctor-recommended exercise.

Over the last year, he said he has seen quite a few dead animals on the beach.

"It's very sad to see the critters dying on the beach and still flopping around, its hard to see," Harchuska said.

Although he hasn’t been a witness to the recent wave of dead dolphins, Harchuska said he believes the deaths are related to the red tide bloom which peaked in July.

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Credit Andrea Perdomo / WGCU
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WGCU
Several times a week, Greg Harchuska goes to the beach with a metal detector to search for treasures while getting his doctor-recommended exercise. Over the last year, he said he has seen quite a few dead animals on the beach.

Blair Mase is the the marine mammal stranding coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, she said the toxic algal bloom is still lingering in the Gulf of Mexico. 

“The ride tide bloom has been seen offshore in the past two weeks," Mase said. "We’ve heard reports of a discoloration in the water which is leading us to believe that these animals could have potentially been impacted offshore and then drifted in.”

Red tide has not been officially declared the cause of death in what NOAA has called the most recent "unusual mortality event" affecting dolphins. But Mase says scientists see signs that point to exposure to the toxin.

Mase was optimistic about the impact the recent cold snap would have on the bloom. 

“The cooler weather could potentially dissipate a little bit of the red tide and hopefully have less of an impact on our marine species in the area, so we’re hopeful that that is the case,” Mase said. 

The necropsy results from the deceased dolphins are expected be in by the end of the week.

Find information on what to do should you encounter a beached dolphin here

Andrea Perdomo is a reporter for WGCU News. She started her career in public radio as an intern for the Miami-based NPR station, WLRN. Andrea graduated from Florida International University, where she was a contributing writer for the student-run newspaper, The Panther Press, and was also a member of the university's Society of Professional Journalists chapter.
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