Saturday, 20 July 2013

Mysterious Manatee and Dolphin Deaths in Florida Confound Scientists


Once a lush and healthy estuary, the Indian River Lagoon is now an enigmatic death trap. Running along 40 percent of Florida’s Atlantic coast, the lagoon’s brackish waters harbor a mysterious killer that has claimed the lives of hundreds of manatees, pelicans, and dolphins. Nobody knows why. In April, NOAA declared the spate of manatee deaths an Unusual Mortality Event, a designation granted when marine mammal deaths or strandings are significantly higher than normal, demand immediate attention, and are the result of a common but unknown cause. Soon, the bottlenose dolphin die-off may be given the same designation. “We have to hope we can find the answer, because until we do, we don’t know how we can help prevent it in the future,” said Jan Landsberg, a research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Since last July, 51 dolphins, 111 manatees, and as many as 300 pelicans have perished in the lagoon. The deaths don’t follow an obvious pattern: Manatees are dying so quickly that some still have food in their mouths, while the dolphins and pelicans appear to be starving to death.


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