PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Marine biologists are on high alert as they monitor the ongoing red tide bloom and the impact it’s having on dolphins in the Tampa Bay area.
Biologists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have responded to six stranded dolphins since June 20 and while it’s too soon to directly link those sick and dead dolphins to red tide, they say that’s much higher than average. Back in 2018 and 2019, NOAA found 180 of Florida’s West Coast dolphins were killed by the toxic algae blooms.
Captain Jack Steeves at Hubbard’s Marina prides is carefully keeping an eye on the bottlenose dolphins as he runs between three and five dolphin watching charter trips a day.
About 60 minutes into our trip Monday, we spotted an entire pod of dolphins mating, which was a good sign for Captain Jack. Yet, he worries what will happen if this red tide bloom continues for months, with warm waters fueling the toxic algae.
“Several years ago whenever we experienced a red tide, we would go through many trips in a row where we didn’t see dolphins, which is very unusual, but that hasn’t been the case so far this time,” he elaborated.
Dolphins don’t breathe underwater, but they’re often impacted by red tide by eating fish with toxins.
Kelly Martin, the Animal Care Director at Clearwater Marine Aquarium also says dolphins can have respiratory issues from the blooms.
“The other way it can impact dolphins is actually through inhalation or respiration. They’re air breathers, as are turtles and manatees,” she said.
Martin says it’s crucial we all look out for animals acting unusual.
“They tend to act a little different than normal. Swim erratically, maybe breathe heavier than normal, expire more forcefully. Any of those things could be signs or symptoms that something could be going wrong,” she explained.
FWC, NOAA and Clearwater Marine Aquarium all have hotlines set up to report a sick or dead dolphin, manatee or sea turtle.
- FWC’s hotline is 727-404-3922
- NOAA’S hotline is 866-755-6622
- Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s hotline is 727-441-1790