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Red tide is killing more than just fish. Manatees, dolphins and birds are dying, too

Dolphin dead from red tide washes up on Florida beach

Erin Long, based in Sarasota, Florida, shared videos to Facebook on August 24 of a dead dolphin that washed up on a beach near her home. She wrote, “I really hope something can be done about the red tide. So many dead animals.”
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Erin Long, based in Sarasota, Florida, shared videos to Facebook on August 24 of a dead dolphin that washed up on a beach near her home. She wrote, “I really hope something can be done about the red tide. So many dead animals.”

It’s difficult to forget the images of thousands upon thousands of dead fish, killed by red tide, that have washed up in Manatee County this month.

But fish are not the only animals being impacted and killed by the red tide algae Karenia brevis.

Wildlife Inc. president Ed Straight said the Bradenton Beach-based organization is caring for nearly a dozen birds believed to be suffering the effects of red tide. The group has treated several types of birds, including osprey, laughing gulls, anhingas and a black skimmer.

Some look as though they could recover. A black skimmer is being tube fed and has survived for two days.

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Sadly, not all of the birds taken in by Wildlife Inc. have shared the same fate, Straight said, noting a few gulls and an anhinga died.

The organization has not seen any pelicans come through — yet.

“They’re usually more reluctant to eat those fish until there’s no more fish for them to get,” Straight said.


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In more than 30 years of helping animals, Straight has been through red tide on several occasions and said he knows from experience that it affects birds. He said they expect more birds to come in and are trying to release as many healthy animals as possible to make room.

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On Wednesday, a dead dolphin that washed up on Anna Maria Island was recovered by Mote Marine Laboratory.

Mote public relations manager Stephannie Kettle said the call reporting the dolphin came in Tuesday night, and the Stranding Investigations Program crew responded the next morning. The adult dolphin washed up on the shore was “badly decomposed,” Kettle said, and was taken to Mote’s lab for a necropsy.

She said until the results of the necropsy are back, they cannot confirm red tide is the official cause of death, but it is “certainly a suspect.”

Ed Straight of Wildlife, Inc. is rehabilitating several birds who are sick from eating dead fish from red tide, and he warns that the problem may become much worse as safe food supplies disappear.

The dolphin’s body was decomposed, and photos posted to social media show one side of the dolphin’s body blackened from the sun. Kettle said it likely died offshore, though it is hard to know where, as it was not a dolphin known to frequent the Sarasota Bay area, and the changes in winds and tide brought its body to shore.

Since Aug. 7, Mote has recovered 15 dolphins from within its response area in Sarasota and Manatee counties. Kettle said anyone who sees a stranded dolphin, manatee, whale or sea turtle should call Mote’s Stranding Investigations hotline at 941-988-0212 and take photos or video to help Mote’s team identify the animal and situation.

While crews were out recovering the dolphin’s body, a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle was discovered floating in the water and was recovered by Mote. As of Wednesday, Mote has recovered 200 sea turtles in 2018, though the deaths have beenbecause of a combination of suspected red tide and human interaction, such as boat strikes or fishing gear entanglement, according to Kettle.

Between the dolphins and sea turtle recoveries, Mote has surpassed the number of recoveries it typically does in a year. The yearly average for sea turtle recoveries in a non-red tide bloom is about 100 and about 10 to 15 dolphins, Kettle said.

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The death toll doesn’t stop there.

Two dead manatees have been recovered from Manatee County, with several others in Collier, Lee, Charlotte and Sarasota counties.

As of Aug. 18, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission report showed red tide as the cause of death for 29 manatees and it is suspected in the deaths of 74 others.

A 278-pound manatee was recovered from Terra Ceia Bay in Palmetto on Aug. 16. The female manatee’s body was too decomposed to determine a cause of death, but red tide was suspected, records showed.

Even as far back as Jan. 26, the death of a 302-pound male manatee recovered from Anna Maria Sound in Bradenton was suspected to be due to red tide. However, the cause of death was listed as undetermined because the body was too decomposed, according to FWC. An analysis found Brevetoxin in his stomach contents, liver, urine or other sample collected by FWC.

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According to FWC, the red tide bloom nagging Southwest Florida extends over about 145 miles of Gulf shore coastline, with “high” concentration of the cells showing up between Manatee and Collier counties.

Most areas, according to FWC, are showing a “comparable or slightly increased cell concentrations” compared to last week.

Fish kills are being reported as far north as Pinellas County.

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The number of dead fish “stunned” Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, who went in waters with a charter boat captain near Sanibel Island on Wednesday and told the Associated Press he saw thousands and thousands of dead sea creatures.

“I was astounded by the level of carnage that we saw,” O’Mara said. “Of all the disasters I’ve seen in the past decade, this is probably the most visual.”

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