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Dolphins found dead on Powderhorn Beach

By by Dianna Wray - DWRAY@VICAD.COM
March 15, 2012 at 7 p.m.
Updated March 15, 2012 at 10:16 p.m.

Six dolphins were reported dead on Powderhorn Beach near Port O'Connor. The deaths were reported to the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

What to do

If you find a marine mammal in distress or a marine mammal carcass call the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 1-800-9-MAMMAL.

A Seadrift environmentalist is reporting the death of six dolphins on Powderhorn Beach, and state officials are trying to determine how they died.

Diane Wilson, of Seadrift, heard Wednesday that dolphin carcasses had been discovered on the beach that sits on the edge of Matagorda Bay between Indianola and Port O'Connor.

She investigated and found the dolphins herself. There were six carcasses - ranging from about 31/2 to 8 feet long - lying on a milelong stretch of sand. They appeared to have been dead for two to three weeks, Wilson said.

Wilson reported this to the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network, the only agency in the state authorized to deal with beached marine mammals, alive or dead.

Lee Walker, regional coordinator for the Corpus Christi branch of the network, said it is unclear why the animals died.

Stranding season - the time of year when remains of marine mammals are more likely to wash up on shore - runs from December to April, Walker said. This follows birthing season, so there is a natural mortality from premature births and early deaths of baby dolphins that might have caused the animals to die, Walker said.

Walker has worked with the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network for about 18 years. The network rescues marine mammals such as dolphins and whales if they are found alive. When the mammals are found dead, the team performs necropsies to determine what caused the death and then dispose of the carcass.

She said they don't usually get reports of stranded or dead dolphins on that section of the coast.

Overall, the number of dolphins that have been found dead on beaches is a little higher than normal this year, Walker said, but nowhere near a historic number that would be cause for alarm.

Wilson said the number is something to monitor because there is a history of dolphin kills in the area. In March 1992, more than 100 Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphins were found dead on the Texas coast. Of those, 87 were found in Calhoun County. The cause of death was never firmly established.

The largest known stranding in recent history occurred in 1987 and 1988 when more than 700 dolphins stranded themselves on the shores of the East Coast. Red tide is thought to have caused the strandings, according to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Walker said it may be difficult to figure out exactly why the dolphins found this week died because the carcasses have been dead for so long.

"With those animals not being found in a fresh state, we're out on a limb there trying to correlate A and B and figure out what happened," Walker said.

The Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network is looking into the deaths, she said.

She urged anyone who finds a marine mammal who appears to be in distress or a marine mammal carcass to contact the network.

"We've got to have these animals reported when they're found on the inland bay area," Walker said. "People have these animals in their backyard, and they don't call us, and that's going to prevent us from doing our research and finding out what kills them."

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