Mote investigating deaths of six dolphins

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Since Saturday, six dead dolphins and three dead manatees have been found off Venice and Casey Key.

"We understand it's not a human, but we treat them like a human because they're part of life," said Master Police Officer Paul Joyce.

Master Office Paul Joyce with Venice Police has never seen anything like this before.

"I've been doing this job for a long time on the water and this is the longest lasting red tide we've ever had that I recall," he told FOX 13.

He's helped pull four dead dolphins and three dead manatees from the Venice waterways, in areas where red tide is present.

Two more dolphins came in Wednesday afternoon from Casey Key.

"This is sort of a typical pattern when it's persisted for a long period of time. We were keeping our fingers crossed we wouldn't see the dolphins wash up, but now we are," said Gretchen Lovewell.

Mote Marine Laboratory, Stranding Investigations Program Manager Gretchen Lovewell said that's above their yearly average.

"We get about 15 dolphins a year. to have 6 in less than 24 hours is not only alarming but just a lot of work and has us all on high alert," she said.

Lovewell said the dolphins don't appear to be part of pods that live in the area year round.

She said those dolphins are more resistant to red tide because they've lived through it and these dolphins have not.

"They may actually be clearing some of the toxins from the air-water interface as well as they get it into their system," she said.

Lovewell is collecting samples from the dolphins to send to the FWC for testing. It could take weeks before they learn if red tide was to blame.

While red tide is suspected, she's concerned it will continue to get worse as the bloom lingers off Sarasota and Manatee Counties. 

"Every time that pager goes off we are wondering if we are going to have another," she said.

To report a stranded dolphin, whale, manatee or sea turtle within coastal Southwest Florida, please call the Stranding Investigations Program's 24-hour pager: 941-988-0212.