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Sun Herald Article by Mary Perez - March 17, 2009
No Answers in Dolphin Deaths

SunHerald GULFPORT — Seven dolphin calves and two adult dolphins have beached in Harrison County in the last two weeks but there aren’t reports of other marine life dying.

“I’m not alarmed,” said Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport. “This year is a little bit unusual,” he said, but “these spikes occur all the time.”

The dolphins were discovered on the beaches of Biloxi, Gulfport and Pass Christian and on Deer Island. Solangi said he also had reports of two or three dolphins beached in Slidell and Lake Poncthatrain, La.

The umbilicus were still attached to the calves found in Mississippi, which indicates they died at birth or within two weeks, said Tim Hoffland, director of animal care at IMMS. Mississippi has one of the U.S.’ largest dolphin populations, because of the abundance of fish, the warm water and availability of shallow and deep water in close range.

The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality’s beach monitoring program indicates it isn’t a problem with the water.

“The water quality is in an acceptable range at this time,” said Dawn Rebarchik, research associate at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs, which is contracted by DEQ to take the samples. The public can check the results on the Internet and Rebarchik said, “Everything’s been good for quite a while.”

Photo by: AMANDA McCOY/SUN HERALDRobbie Wilbur, DEQ communications director, said samples are taken for bacteria at 21 sites across South Mississippi. If bacteria levels rise, he said the public is alerted through the media and signs posted on the beaches.

Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve Manager David Ruple said they haven’t had any reports of beaching in that area, which is much more remote than the Harrison County beaches. “We frequently see dolphins throughout the spring and summer,” he said, and routine water monitoring is done with readings every 15 minutes and an alarm that sounds if there is a problem.

“This is the beginning of our stranding season in this area,” said Delphine Vanderpool, assistant director of research at IMMS. She presented information to government and law enforcement personnel during a Stranding Seminar at the Gulfport facility Wednesday.

Solangi said the seminars are held almost every year and given the recent beachings, “this is the best turnout that we’ve had.”

“If they’re stranded in the Back Bay we want to know what to do,” said D’Iberville Police Lt. Shannon Nobles.

Solangi doesn’t have answers yet but thinks recent hurricanes may be a factor because they stir up the bottom and churn up nutrients, which temporarily create more food.

By Mary Perez

IMMS Photos

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