Dolphin death toll rises as red tide shows no signs of letting up

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Tourists flock to Florida, mostly for the beaches, the wildlife, and the marine life. Dolphins are among the top attractions. But red tide is taking a toll on everything in its path, possibly being responsible for several dolphin deaths in just a few days.

A couple more were just pulled from the Gulf of Mexico near Venice, bringing the death toll to nine. Animal rescuers are bringing in more help from across the state as red tide seems to have made its home off the coast of Sarasota County.

Rescuers from FWC and Mote Marine say reports of dead marine life are constant.

“It certainly feels like ground zero," offered Mote Marine Laboratory’s stranding investigations program manager, Gretchen Lovewell.

Lovewell is part of Mote’s three-person stranding investigations team. Since Tuesday, she's worked to recover and perform necropsies on nine dead bottlenose dolphins.

The latest two were pulled in from Casey Key and Siesta Key.

“We are seeing stomachs full of partially-digested fresh fish and not much else, which is one of our first indications this is likely red tide,” Lovewell explained. “These animals are exposed to this long-going algae bloom with red tide. It sort of works its way up the food web. Our dolphins are top apex predators and now we are starting to see it.”

LINK: Red tide FAQ: What is it, and where does it come from?

The bloom has been persistent in southwest Florida for more than 10 months.

“We are planning for the worse. We don't see an end in sight right now. We are just trying to gear up and rotate people in,” Lovewell said.

Help comes from the FWC, local law enforcement agencies, and now additional help is coming down from Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the University of Florida.

With the latest red tide forecast not showing much of a change, those at ground zero continue working, hoping for the bloom to dissipate.

“A few years ago we had a lot in Fort Myers. That's what we did every day. Just depends where it is,” said Florida Fish and Wildlife Lt. Rob Gerkin. “I think it's probably one of the worst ones we've had for deaths in the last 30 years.”

Mote Marine asks anyone who sees a dolphin, or any animal in distress, to send them a picture and video, if possible

The lab is being inundated with calls and workers say this can help their staff identify if an animal needs immediate help.

For the latest red tide testing results, visit myfwc.com/redtidestatus or check the conditions of our area by visiting www.visitbeaches.org.

Continuing coverage:

-Volunteers shovel dead fish from Holmes Beach

-Demonstrators at Gov. Scott event want action on red tide

-Red tide blamed for deaths as manatees, goliath grouper wash ashore

-Red tide blooms early along southern Bay Area beaches

-Manatee, paralyzed by red tide, rescued in Charlotte Co.

-Red tide creeps north, reaching Longboat Key

-Dead wildlife needs to be reported, or it can worsen red tide, FWC says

-Spike in sea turtle deaths linked to red tide

-Drones used to track red tide along Florida coast

-More videos show dead manatees off Southwest Florida

-Mote scientists track ongoing red tide bloom

-Red tide causing respiratory concerns along Sarasota County beaches