Scientists are trying to determine why more than 260 bottlenose dolphins have been found stranded along the Northern Gulf of Mexico since the beginning of February.
The number of dolphin deaths is about three times higher than the average for the time period, researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Friday.
The strandings in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the panhandle of Florida have been declared an Unusual Mortality Event, or UME.
A UME is defined under the Marine Mammal Protection Act as “a stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population; and demands immediate response.”
Researchers said it is too early to discern the cause of the deaths because many of the dolphins recovered are very decomposed, making it harder to determine why they died. Some carcasses have been stranded in remote locations, which made it difficult for scientists to recover or examine them.
Some of the stranded dolphins had skin lesions associated with freshwater exposure, which is being investigated as a possible contributing factor, NOAA researchers said. In addition to skin lesions, dolphins can suffer from abnormal blood chemistry, swelling of the cornea and even death if they are exposed to low salinity water for an extended time.
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SOURCE: USA Today, N’dea Yancey-Bragg