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  Yahoo News 21 Mar 07
Study to examine dead dolphins in Texas

Yahoo News 20 Mar 07
Texas dolphin die-off puzzles scientists

The stranding deaths of about 60 bottlenose dolphins on Texas beaches over the past three weeks has puzzled researchers and is a cause for concern during the calving season, a senior scientist said on Monday.

"This is the calving season so we often have strandings at this time of the year. It's tough to be an air-breather born in the water," said Dr. Daniel F. Cowan, professor of pathology at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and director of the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

"But over the last few weeks we have had about 3 to 4 times the usual mortality," he told Reuters.

Most of the carcasses were in an advanced state of decomposition, suggesting that they were carried to Texas beaches from areas further off or up the shore. Suspected causes include parasites, an outbreak of infectious diseases or red tide, an algal bloom prompted by fertilizers or other excess nutrients.

Most of the dolphins have been too decomposed for a necropsy -- the animal version of an autopsy -- and so volunteers have been burying them on the beaches.

Several of the dolphins which have washed up on shore have been young with umbilical cords still attached.

Yahoo News 21 Mar 07
Study to examine dead dolphins in Texas

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is conducting a special investigation to determine what caused an unusually high number of dead dolphins to wash ashore in Galveston and Jefferson counties.

The discovery of at least 60 dolphin corpses on the beaches of the two Southeast Texas counties this month prompted the National Marine Fisheries to declare the occurrence an "unusual mortality event," said Blair Mase, marine mammal stranding coordinator for NOAA.

Nine dead dolphins were discovered in March 2006 and 11 in March 2005.

Chris Marshall, assistant professor of marine biology at Texas A&M University at Galveston, said the high number of dolphin deaths is alarming because their health can indicate problems in the health of the ocean.

With Tuesday's declaration of the unusual mortality event, Mase said NOAA will begin necropsies of the animals in which samples are taken of every organ in the body.

Mase said lab tests of the dolphins' DNA will help scientists figure out whether the animals come from groups that live primarily far offshore, as NOAA suspects. The labs will also test for viruses, heavy metals and other toxins.

"We don't want to rule anything out," Mase said.

Heidi Watts, operations coordinator for the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network, said she notified NOAA last week of the high number of dead dolphins washing ashore during the stranding season, which occurs during the spawning season from January through March.

During a normal year, about 180 stranded dolphins wash ashore on Texas' entire coastline. This year, they've been limited almost completely to Galveston and Jefferson counties, Watts said.

She said scientists don't know why yet. Scientists believe the dolphins could have drifted from off the Louisiana coast because of their decomposed bodies.

Watts said an investigation of Louisiana's coastline found only four dead dolphins, all in western Louisiana.

Watts said a recent flight by investigators over the Gulf of Mexico to look for toxic algae blooms and dolphin corpses revealed neither.

The declaration of an unusual mortality event is rare. Spokeswoman Kim Amendola said NOAA has declared an unusual number of marine mammal deaths eight times since 1988 in a region that includes the Gulf of Mexico, the East Coast to North Carolina, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

Related articles on Global: marine issues and Dolphins
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