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Red Tide Abates With Cold Weather, But Dolphin Deaths Continue in SW Florida

Dead fish litter a Pinellas County beach earlier this year. The red tide continues to plague Southwest Florida.
Stephen Splane / WUSF Public Media
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Red tide seems to be retreating in the Tampa Bay area with the onset of a cold front. But further south, dolphins continue to die at an alarming pace.

There have been 39 dolphin strandings since November 21st. Two were reported this week. Most have happened in Lee and Collier counties in southwest Florida.

Blair Mase, the marine mammal stranding coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said they "highly suspect" red tide is the cause. But they won't know for certain until autopsies are conducted on the dead dolphins. She says the injuries are consistent with dolphins that died in the past because of red tide.

"Over the weekend, we had four dolphins (strand) in the Sarasota region," she said. "We had some dolphins strand last week in the Pinellas and Tampa area. But this spike in dolphin strandings really is focusing down in Collier and Lee counties."

Mase says the cold front should cause the red tide outbreak to subside.

“The cooler weather could potentially dissipate a little bit of the red tide and hopefully have less of an impact on our marine species in the area," she said. "so we’re hopeful that that is the case.”

Mase sayd the necropsy results should be in by the end of the week.

NOAA says red tide happens when algae colonies grow out of control due to pollution from farming and other human activities.

Map of dolphin strandings
Credit NOAA
The Florida Channel
Map of dolphin strandings

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Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.