Dolphin Die-off

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released its preliminary findings in this spring's dolphin die-off; 107 dolphins died in 35 days here in the Panhandle.

With every dolphin carcass, another piece of the puzzle was discovered, but researchers are still searching for the main picture.

Dr. Teri Rowles with NOAA led the research response effort along the Panhandle.

"It look like they died shortly after ingesting a meal. Many of the animals had whole or partially digested fish in the stomach," he says.

NOAA got involved almost immediately to study this unusual mortality event. This is the third dolphin die-off related to red tide in the Gulf of Mexico, and the second one off the Florida Panhandle. However, this time the animals showed a higher level of brevetoxin, which is produced by red tide.

Ron Hardy, the owner of Gulf World, was the on-site coordinator for the dolphin recovery. He says every bit of information is useful.

"When you take probably the most popular living mammal in the ocean, the whales and the dolphins, to monitor their health and what's going on with them. I think tells us the health of the ocean itself."

NOAA dismissed any link between the die-off and military activity in the Gulf or possible pollutants as a distinctive factor in the dolphin deaths. Hardy says nothing is being taken for granted in this research process, despite taking some time.

"There's a lot of things we've learned that doesn't involve red tide. When you get that many animals and you can do the necropsies and do all the tissue, so we're just learning hundreds and hundreds of things."

The focus now is why the toxin is killing the dolphins and at what level is the toxin potentially fatal, but until all the questions are answered, the puzzle remains unsolved.