Red tide the suspected killer in a recent spike in dead dolphins

Reporter: Gina Tomlinson
Published: Updated:
A dead dolphin washed ashore on a SWFL beach. Photo via WINK News.

Steve Abbott and Jim Farrior hoped to interact with some of the dolphins when they set out to kayak near Bonita Beach.

“We rode side by side with one for a mile a couple years ago,” Abbott said, who lives in Fort Myers. “We have a real place in our hearts for what they are and what’s going on with them.”

A recent spike in dead dolphins washing up on shores in Lee and Collier County seem to be attributed to the lingering red tide: the suspected killer.

“Lot of fish and eels on the beach,” Jeff Wiseman said, from Bonita Springs, “never a dolphin.”

Crews picked up more than seven dead dolphins on Tuesday, one of which was not too far away from where Wiseman works on Bonita Beach.

“If a mammal that large can be killed,” Wiseman said, “there’s something going on in the water.”

While there are no beach advisories as of Tuesday, Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau has released a statement that noted in recent samples, there are patchy areas of red tide conditions along SWFL shorelines.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is conducting tests on the water, with results expected to come in soon, to better determine red tide levels in beach waters.

Red tide, which usually runs from October to January or February of the following year, has been an ongoing problem in SWFL.

In a 2016 study partly conducted by the University of Florida, those who then planned to visit Florida within three months overwhelmingly stated they would avoid traveling to an area that has been declared, a “state of emergency.”

While red tide conditions presently are not at that level, the deaths of these animals are certainly a cause for worry. The dolphin deaths will impact local and traveling beach-goers, once again putting a dent in tourism industry revenues.

Florida Wildlife Commission picks up dead dolphins that have washed ashore on a SWFL beach. Photo via WINK News.
Florida Wildlife Commission picks up dead dolphins that have washed ashore on a SWFL beach. Photo via WINK News.

Over the last week in Lee and Collier County, there have been 37 dead dolphins that have washed ashore, which has traditionally been a rare sight.

NOAA Marine Mammal Expert Blair Mase believes the food these dolphins consume may contribute to its deaths.

“They are either impacted by ingesting fish that have the toxin,” Mase said. “That’s how they’re impacted or by inhalation.”

Mase said if the bottle nose dolphins continue to die at the rate we’re seeing, it could hurt the population.

“It is quite concerning,” Mase said. “It’s hard to see an impact at this level, especially when we thought things were improving.”

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