Researchers keep close eye on Tampa Bay's dolphins after Piney Point discharges

From a boat outside Port Manatee, Dr. Randall Wells keeps a close eye on the water. He and others are tracking dolphins who live in the area to see how they've been affected by wastewater discharges from the old Piney Point fertilizer plant. 

"We are trying to get a sense of which dolphins are in the area. Which dolphins may be exposed to the most concentrated wastewaters," said Dr.Wells. 

The dolphins have lived in the waters of Tampa Bay for at least 30 years. They've been documented in the past by the Chicago Zoological Society's Sarasota Dolphin Research Program. 

Researchers found them a few miles away near Cockroach Bay. 

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"We are looking for where they are going and if there's any changes in their body condition or their respiratory pattern. skin lesions, those types of things. Their skin is very sensitive to changes in water chemistry and salinity," said Dr. Wells.

Dolphin spotted in Tampa Bay

215 million gallons of water were discharged from Piney Point into Tampa Bay. The future for the dolphins and the bay they call home remains unknown, for now. 

"What happens to the fish that supports them, the seagrass that supports the fish that supports them?" Dr. Wells wondered. "Ecologically, will this area support them in the long term or will they need to be out of this area in adjacent waters to make a living?"

‘Is the water safe?’ Water flowing from Piney Point shouldn’t pose threat to humans, may impact marine life 

Tens of thousands of boaters are preparing to hit the waters of Tampa Bay this weekend and many are asking if the water is safe following the crisis at Piney Point