Red tide is suspected of killing 177 dolphins over the past year in southwest Florida, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Elevated bottlenose dolphin mortalities have occurred in Manatee, Sarasota, Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties since the bloom of the red tide organism Karenia brevis began in November 2017, according to NOAA, calling it an “unusual mortality event.”
The bloom affected Gulf of Mexico waters around Anna Maria Island from August 2018 to February 2019, and has reappeared sporadically in background concentrations since then locally and elsewhere in the state.
Other species including fish, sea turtles and manatees also are dying because of the ongoing harmful algal bloom, according to NOAA.
The last time a similar event happened was in 2005-06, when red tide killed about 190 dolphins in the region.
In addition, more than 200 bottlenose dolphins have become stranded on Gulf beaches from Florida to Louisiana – the area of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill – since Feb. 1, according to NOAA. The causes are still under investigation.
NOAA estimates about 12,388 dolphins live in the Gulf of Mexico from the Big Bend area of Florida south to Key West.
If you find a stranded, dead or sick dolphin, call NOAA’s emergency strandings number at 1-877-WHALE HELP (1-877-942-5343) or contact the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16.
- DON’T push the animal back out to sea! Stranded marine mammals may be sick or injured. Returning animals to sea delays examination and treatment and often results in the animal re-stranding in worse condition.
- If the animal returns to the water on its own, DON’T attempt to interact with it (swim with, ride, etc.).
- DO put human safety above animal safety. If conditions are dangerous, do not attempt to approach the animal.
- DO stay with the animal until rescuers arrive, but use caution. Marine mammals can be dangerous and/or carry disease. Keep a safe distance from the head and tail. Do not touch the animal and avoid inhaling the animal’s expired air.
- DO keep its skin moist and cool by splashing water over its body. Use wet towels to help keep the skin moist and prevent sunburn.
- DON’T cover or obstruct the blowhole. Try to keep sand and water away from the blowhole.
- DO keep crowds away and noise levels down to avoid causing further stress to the animal.
- DO report all dead marine mammals, even if they are decomposed, to 877-WHALE HELP (877-942-5343).
- DO keep dogs/pets away from the live or dead marine mammal.
- DON’T collect any parts (tissues, teeth, bones, or gear, etc.) from dead animals. They are still covered by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.