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Researchers Say Neurotoxin Helps Explain Indian River Lagoon Dolphin Deaths

This deceased dolphin's ribs clearly are visible. It's not clear why the Indian River Lagoon's dolphins died of emaciation. Photo courtesy Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute

Researchers say they’ve detected a potent neurotoxin in dolphins of the Indian River Lagoon during times of harmful algae blooms and also when blooms are not present. 

The neurotoxin called saxitoxin is associated with species of algae that are bioluminescent, a popular attraction for kayakers.

Megan Stolen of the Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute says the neurotoxin is one reason why dolphins of the Indian River Lagoon are emaciated and dying, but there are other reasons. 

“Their immune systems are compromised. We’ve seen animals that are thinner than they should be, and we know that they’ve been affected by three mortality events since 2001.” 

The other reasons for the dolphins’ plight are not well-understood. Restoration efforts in the Indian River Lagoon are aimed at the nutrient pollution at the heart of the harmful algae blooms. 

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Amy Green

About Amy Green

Reporter and Producer

Amy Green covers the environment and climate change at WMFE News. She is an award-winning journalist and author whose extensive reporting on the Everglades is featured in the book MOVING WATER, published by Johns Hopkins University Press, and podcast DRAINED, available wherever you get your podcasts. Amy’s ... Read Full Bio »