New study shows Alzheimer’s-like brain disease in dead Florida dolphins

Reporter: Anika Henanger
Published: Updated:

Toxic blue-green algae hit Southwest Florida hard in 2018. Dolphins washed up on our shores by the dozen. Research at UM is shining a light on what happened to these animals.

Newly released research by scientists at University of Miami found dead dolphins poisoned by blue-green algae showed signs of Alzheimer’s-like brain disease.

“So what we’re seeing from the study from my point of view is pretty much a smoking gun,” said John Cassani, founder of Calusa Waterkeeper.

Scientists said they found the toxin BMAA in the brains of stranded dolphins that dated back to 2005. FGCU researchers found that same toxin in air quality tests in Cape Canals.

BMAA: Cyanobacterial neurotoxin BMAA and brain pathology in stranded dolphins

“These dolphins were eating crabs and shellfish and fin fish where this toxin was by accumulating in the food chain,” Cassani said.

Cassani said this study could help answer questions for many in Southwest Florida.

“The study also found the level of BMAA in the Florida dolphins was three times higher than that in the Massachusetts dolphins,” Cassani said. “Is may show the cyanobacteria problem here is a little bit worse than it is in the Northeast or in Massachusetts.”

Dr. David Davis at UM said the dolphins’ brains showed degenerative damage similar to those in a patients with dementia.

Cassani said it’s important to realize the need for further research.

“It’s tempting to draw a lot of conclusions from this study,” Cassani said.

The team at UM said it cannot yet determine whether the toxin caused the brain damage for the dolphins it studied or how it would impact people. And the team said it’s already expanding its study in the state to look at dolphins even closer.

“Absolute cause and effect is hard to prove in science unless you’re doing toxicity testing on human beings,” Cassani said.


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