Six dolphins were found dead in an Alabama marsh last week in what experts call an “historic mass stranding.”
A paddle boarder discovered the Atlantic spotted dolphins Friday in a Dauphin Island marsh, according to a Tuesday news release from the Alabama Marine Mammal Stranding Network. They seemed to have “stranded alive” several days before.
“This is the first mass stranding of its kind in the state of Alabama,” the release says.
Atlantic spotted dolphins live in waters along the continental shelf and are also found in “deep, oceanic habitats,” according to the ALMMSN. It’s rare for the species to strand on the Alabama coast, with the last documented occurrence in January 2018.
But the animals found Friday are believed to have stranded as a result of Hurricane Sally.
“The animals likely came into the Mississippi Sound during Hurricane Sally, after becoming disoriented in the Gulf,” Mackenzie Russell, ALMMSN stranding coordinator, said in the release.
Hurricane Sally made landfall Sept. 16 near Gulf Shores, Alabama, according to the National Weather Service. The slow-moving storm dumped copious amounts of rain on the region, which led to record-high river levels in Alabama and Florida, the weather service says.
“We often see an increase in offshore species of dolphins and whales stranding after large storm events,” Russell said in the release. “Unfortunately, these dolphins stranded in a remote marsh location that delayed their discovery and reporting to the stranding network.”
In addition to weather events, marine mammals may strand due to injuries, illnesses, entanglement in fishing gear or starvation, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The release says mass strandings are rare in the northern Gulf Coast. But NOAA says strandings are “relatively common in many areas” and that thousands of incidents are reported each year.
Dolphins, whales and porpoises are “considered stranded” when they are found dead on the land or floating in the water or when they are found alive on the land but unable to return to the water, NOAA says. If the animal is alive, it will usually need medical attention or help from a professional to get back in the water.
The dolphins found Friday were examined at Dauphin Island Sea Lab’s Marine Mammal Research Center the next day, according to the ALMMSN release.
“The major finding during examination was nearly empty stomachs, indicating the animals had not eaten in some time,” Dr. Jennifer Bloodgood, ALMMSN veterinarian, said in the release. “Unfortunately, decomposition of the tissues limits our ability to interpret findings, which happens often with deceased animals in the Alabama heat, and highlights the importance of rapid reporting and response.”
Those who find injured, sick or dead marine mammals in the Southeast should call 1-877-WHALE-HELP, the release says.
“Never push a live stranded animal back into the water because it can prevent trained responders and veterinarians from providing timely care,” the release says.
NOAA also says not to approach a stranded animal but to report them to a local stranding network or use the use the Dolphin & Whale 911 app.