Wildlife deaths in Indian River Lagoon puzzle biologists

By Greg Pallone, Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, May 08, 2013, 7:52 AM EDT

The search for answers presses on about why high-profile wildlife are dying in the Indian River Lagoon.

“It's one thing to die a quick death,” said Megan Stolen from Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute. “It's another to sort of waste away.”

That's why there's a sense of urgency for biologists, who are trying to figure out why 30 dead dolphins have turned up since the beginning of the year in the Indian River Lagoon of Brevard County.

“We do see a few patterns in that the dolphins that we have found in the lagoon are very skinny, but aside from that, we don't see anything that really connects them,” Stolen said.

Most of them are decomposed, limiting on what researchers can learn.

Many of the dolphins have been found with near-empty stomachs.

“We really don't know what they've been eating, that takes a whole new level of scientific inquiry,” Stolen said.

Meanwhile, researchers are looking for a possible connection to other wildlife turning up dead in the lagoon.

Approximately 100 manatees have died since July 2012 due to a common, but unknown cause.

On average, that number would represent a whole year, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Algae blooms over the past couple of years have kept the sun from getting to underwater sea grass, which has died.

It's the primary food for sea cows.

So could a change in diet be causing the deaths?

Pelicans are dying too in Brevard, with nearly 300 reported dead since February. And once again, there isn’t a cause.

Jose Rodriguez fishes a popular spot on the Indian River under the Melbourne Causeway.

He hopes they figure out what is happening to all these animals.

“When you hear they are dying, imagine what else is going on in these waters,” Rodriguez said.

Biologists stress it is key for the public who see these dead animals to report it right away. Residents are asked to call the Wildlife Alert Hotline at (888) 404-3922. You can report dead birds on FWC’s website.

It gives them more time to examine them and possibly figure out what is going wrong.