Red Tide

Mote and NOAA Report Spike in Dolphin Deaths—and Red Tide is Likely to Blame

Forty-nine bottlenose dolphins have died in Southwest Florida since July 1.

By Jonathan Goodman September 14, 2018

The Mote Stranding Investigations Program is researching the unusually high amount of dolphin deaths in Southwest Florida, expectedly caused by the red tide.

Image: Shutterstock

In the last two month, deaths in Southwest Florida’s bottlenose dolphin population have spiked. Likely caused by the red tide, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has deemed this phenomenon an unusual mortality event. Mote Marine Laboratory has tested 10 dolphin remains for red tide neurotoxins—i.e., brevetoxins—and so far all results have come back positive.

Dr. Teri Rowles, coordinator for NOAA’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, says, “There have been 49 bottlenose dolphins dead and one stranded alive from July 1 through September 3 in the affected counties. This is well above historic average for this time period and geographic area.”

On top of the dolphin fatalities, Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program has responded to calls concerning abnormally high amounts of stranded or deceased sea turtles and manatees. “Our team has been working hard, at nearly all hours, to recover dolphins and other marine animals affected by the Florida red tide bloom,” says Gretchen Lovewell, manager of Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program.

The Mote team has worked strenuously to retrieve marine animals poisoned by the red tide, such as the dolphins.

At the same time, she says, Mote and its partners aim to learn from each animal they recover as quickly as possible. “A majority of the deceased dolphins we’ve examined so far had stomachs full of food,” she says. “A primary way that dolphins might be exposed to toxic levels of Florida red tide brevetoxins is through consumption of contaminated prey.”  

Mote and its partners are urging the public to report any sighting of a distressed or dead sea turtle, manatee, dolphin or whale in Sarasota and Manatee counties to Mote’s 24/7 Stranding Investigation Program at (941) 988-0212. Prepare to provide a detailed account of the animal’s appearance, and the behaviors it exhibits. Please take photos and videos if possible.

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