Officials worried as dolphins found dead

GALVESTON, TX Over a two-day period this week, 21 decaying dolphin carcasses were found in Brazoria, Galveston and Jefferson counties, officials said Tuesday.

The deaths of at least 68 bottlenose dolphins in March last year led the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration to declare an "unusual mortality event." NOAA never discovered the cause of that unusually large dolphin die-off on the northern Texas Gulf Coast.

While officials are not yet calling this year's dolphin deaths unusual, there are similarities with the recent deaths and last year's, said Heidi Watts, operations coordinator for the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

She said that six dead dolphins were discovered on Galveston Island, one on Surfside Beach and 14 from the Bolivar Peninsula to the Louisiana border. Twenty were found Monday and one was found Tuesday.

Like the dolphins last year, these were all partially decomposed.

The dead dolphins this year and last were mostly 3 months old or younger, said Blair Mase, NOAA marine mammal stranding coordinator. As in the previous year, their bodies began arriving on shore early in March, and all were coastal bottlenose dolphins.

Mase called the number of strandings unusual and said NOAA would consider declaring another "unusual mortality event" if the numbers continue to be high.

Watts said that in order to find dead dolphins before they are too decomposed for analysis, NOAA has asked the nonprofit stranding network to borrow an aircraft for at least a day.

Meanwhile, volunteers with the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network have been taking tissue samples, measurements and other information, Watts said.

"Hopefully, we'll get some answers," Watts said. "You just never know."

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