Over 260 dolphins have been stranded since February 1st in the Northern Gulf of Mexico, three times the usual amount. The increase has prompted NOAA Fisheries to declare an Unusual Mortality Event

This declaration now allows an investigation team to be put in place to make a concentrated effort into the high number of dolphin deaths, in Louisiana thru the Florida panhandle.

NOAA Fisheries Coordinator Dr. Terri Rowles reminds the public what to do if they come into contact with any stranded mammals.

“It’s important that the public not approach any marine mammal in distress and not approach or disturb carcasses. You can hurt yourself, as well as the animal, not to mention it’s illegal.”

NOAA is urging you to call 1-877-Whale-Help if you find a stranded dolphin.

Of the mammals, they have been able to perform necropsies on 23-percent have shown skin lesions consistent with fresh water. There are concerns the recent openings of the Bonne Carre Spillway has increased the amount of fresh water and pollutants into the Gulf, which could be contributing factors.

“There’s a number of factors that we’ll be looking at as part of this investigation, but it’s took early at this point to say what may be causing the mortalities,” said Dr. Erin Fougeres with NOAA Fisheries Southeast Region.

Also located in the area where the dolphins have shown an increase of deaths is where the Deepwater Horizon Explosion impacted the gulf in 2010. Rowles says previous studies have shown abnormal reproduction rates of mammals from the oil spill.

“As part of this investigation, working to investigate whether the event could be related or partially related to any long term effects from the oil spill.”

Of the 260 recorded dolphin deaths, Louisiana has reported 89, Mississippi 121, Alabama 32 and Florida 37.