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9 dead dolphins recovered in Sarasota County over three days

The animals had been found dead amid a 9-month-long red tide outbreak that's killed thousands of marine life in Gulf waters off Southwest Florida in recent weeks.
Photos: Isabel Mascarenas | 10News

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Over the past three days, nine dead dolphins have been recovered from waters off Sarasota County.

The animals had been found dead amid a 9-month-long red tide outbreak that's killed thousands of marine life in Gulf waters off Southwest Florida in recent weeks.

More: Full coverage of the red tide outbreak in Florida

From Aug. 7 through Aug. 9, Mote Marine Laboratory's Investigations program recovered the nine dolphins with the help of Venice Marine Patrol officers, Venice Police, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, West Coast Inland Navigation District personnel, Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program.

Venice Police Officer Paul Joyce is with his agency's Marine Unit He’s towed in the nine dolphins and rescued three manatees -- plus a turtle Thursday with FWC’s help.

He says every time his phone rings or he gets a text from Mote or a rescue group, “My heart rate goes up my blood pressure goes up. Here we go again.”

Joyce what bothers him the most is to know these animals suffered.

“Red tide is a slow death. They suffocate -- it’s like somebody putting a pillow over your face, holding it there, take it away, put it there again. It’s sad.”

This red tide is a first in his 27-year career. “In my career in marine patrol, I’ve never come across something like this. ever.”

Mote scientists Gretchen Lovewell, animal stranding program manager, says the aquarium is “preparing for this will continue and get worse.”

Lovewell says they’re pretty sure these animals died from red tide toxicity.

“We’re not seeing lesions; that’s a tip of disease. Instead, their stomachs have partially digested fresh fish and not much else, indicating its due to red tide.”

Why are dolphins affected later during a bloom?

Lovewell says, “They’re apex predators they’re eating from the top of the food. Web toxins work their way up.”

The longer the red tide bloom lasts, Lovewell says the better chance it’ll reach more dolphins … and more are expected to fall victim to this toxic algae.

“We’re planning for the worst. We don’t see an end in sight right now,” said Lovewell.

Previous: 6 dolphins found dead near Venice; investigation underway

Aug. 7: Two dead dolphins were recovered on a beach in Venice.

Aug. 8: In the morning, two dolphins were recovered from the Intracoastal Waterway near Snake Island in Venice and Caspersen Beach, respectively.

Aug. 8: In the afternoon, a fifth dolphin was reported along North Casey Key Road in Nokomis, and a sixth was reported floating off mid-Casey Key. Both were recovered and taken to Mote.

Aug. 8-9: In the early morning hours of Aug. 9, Mote staff and volunteers recovered a seventh dolphin reported on Siesta Key. Then, the eighth and ninth dolphins were recovered on Siesta Key and Casey Key and taken to Mote.

More: What is red tide?

Related: Low concentrations of red tide reach Pinellas County

Mote reports that of the nine dolphins recovered since Aug. 7, three are males and four are females. The sex of the other two is being confirmed.

Mote reported Thursday that its staff is conducting or will conduct necropsies on all nine dolphins at the organization's main campus on City Island. It said the animals were found moderately to severely decomposed, complicating its efforts to examine and collect samples.

Previous: Red tide may be prompting spike in dead, sick sea turtles

First, it was turtles, manatees and tons of fish; now dolphins are washing up dead, and scientists suspect it's due to red tide.

Mote scientists said when a bloom lasts this long -- and this one started nine months ago off Southwest Florida -- sooner or later dolphins will be impacted. Those scientists admitted they had their fingers crossed, hoping that wouldn’t be the case; but sadly it is.

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