Saturday, December 29, 2007

Central Florida is puzzled by the 81 whale and dolphin strandings in 2007

With 81 whales and dolphins stranded alive or dead this year in east Central Florida, scientists are wondering whether something natural or unusual is at play.“This area is highest of any in the state,” Megan Stolen, a research biologist at Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute in Orlando, said in a statement released today.Brevard’s 48 strandings make up almost 6 in every 10 of the strandings within the four-county area Hubbs-SeaWorld researchers cover: Brevard, St. Johns, Flagler and Volusia counties. Brevard County has 72 miles of beaches.

This year is shaping up to be the highest dolphin and whale stranding year in the region since 2002. In 2005 there were only 49. Last year, there were 71 strandings of whales and dolphins within the same 4-county area.“Many things could be adding to this year’s count,” said Wendy Noke, one of the lead scientists on Hubbs’ team. “What we’re seeing could be part of a trend that will best be understood over the span of five to 10 more years of data.”More dolphin strandings could be on the way.

Recent studies have shown that bottlenose dolphins can die several weeks after exposure to red tide. The tide’s lingering toxins that build up in the dolphins’ systems as they eat menhaden and other fish.“The extent of the red tide problem in Florida’s dolphin and whale population isn’t yet clear,” said Duane De Freese, vice president of Research for HubbsSeaWorld Research Institute. “We have seen nine dolphin deaths on the Central Atlantic Coast since December 12 and that’s high, but we have to do the lab tests to prove what the cause of death was.”

That testing won’t be complete for several days, De Freese said.Hubbs has the “first responder” role for whale and dolphin strandings on Florida’s East Coast.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"