Officials investigate dolphin, manatee and pelican deaths

Wildlife officials investigate dolphin, manatee and pelican deaths

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Some of Florida's most precious aquatic animals and fowl are dying in large numbers this year and scientists are racing to discover why.   The state tells FOX 35 that within the last year, more than 100 manatees, more than 300 pelicans, and approximately 54 dolphins have died in the Indian River Lagoon.   

This week, we could find out if the dolphin deaths warrant special testing and federal funds to solve the problem. 

The Haulover Canal boat ramp at Merritt Island is a place where you can see dolphins, manatees, birds and a family of hogs all close together.  Steve Cruey, of Orlando, fishes there every week.

"It's devastating, because of how it affects us in the long run," he says.  "We have got to take care of this place."  

Cruey says tourists visit Florida to see our amazing animals up close. 

"It's a draw for them to see manatees and if the manatees are dying, it could affect our economy as well."

Scientists believe manatees are dying from toxic algae on seaweed they are eating, because something is killing the sea grass they normally eat.  Dolphins have a different diet, and scientists do not know the cause of their deaths.  Wendy Noke Durden is with the Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute.

She says, "We are all concerned that there are so many dolphins dying in the lagoon, but also that the majority of these animals of these animals are very emaciated."

A working group is trying to determine why so many dolphins died over the last seven months.  They could release their findings in the next few days.

Durden adds, "If it does turn out to be an unusual mortality event then there would be further investigations, which would be very detailed and decisions would be made by a team of experts who would decide what tests need to be run on which samples.  That would increase our chances to determine what caused the dolphins to die."

The team's findings might also lead to federal funding to help solve the problem.

The cause of the pelican deaths also remains a mystery.  Scientists have tested some of the dead manatees to see if toxins are killing them, but they have not done tests yet on the dead dolphins.

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