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Research group studying effects of Piney Point on dolphins in Tampa Bay

Scientists are hoping to identify which dolphins are being exposed to the highest concentrations of wastewater and how it is affecting them.

SARASOTA, Fla. — While engineers were able to shut off the flow of wastewater from the Piney Point phosphate plant into Tampa Bay Thursday, it's still unclear what effects the spill will have on our environment and marine life.

The plan now is to try to treat the remaining water to remove the high levels of ammonia and nitrogen before they begin releasing more water back out into the Bay. 

But what about the 202 million gallons of untreated water that have already been released? 

Chicago Zoological Society’s Sarasota Dolphin Research Program is setting out to find some answers.

The ecological group, in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other organizations, has begun monitoring the dolphins in the area around the gypsum stack spill.

Researchers are hoping to identify which dolphins are being exposed to the highest concentrations of wastewater and how it is affecting them. 

SDRP will look to see if the dolphins are having respiratory issues, skin conditions, or any abnormal behaviors. The research group will also try to determine if ay dolphins have left the area because of the spill, and where they went. 

Credit: SDRP/Chicago Zoological Society

SDRP is a leading dolphin research organization that has used methods like dolphin surveys and prey-fish monitoring to learn more about the species' biology. 

”We conducted photo-identification research in the area near Port Manatee during 1988-1993, and identified a resident dolphin community adjoining that of Sarasota Bay.  Since the discharge began, we have seen many fewer dolphins in the area than we did in our earlier surveys, and they are mostly more than two miles from the discharge site. These findings are preliminary, and the situation is changing daily,” Randall Wells, director of the SDRP, said.

The project is being funded by the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, as no government funds have been made available to the SDRP. 

To learn more about the group's conservation efforts, visit the Chicago Zoological Society’s Sarasota Dolphin Research Program website.

RELATED: Pumping of wastewater from Piney Point put on pause

RELATED: USF launches research cruise to study Piney Point's environmental impact

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