Understanding the Many “Unusual Mortality Events,” along the Indian River Lagoon

A large 7 foot  male dolphin dead along the banks of the St Lucie River, 2012 (Photo Nic Mader)
A large dead 7 foot male dolphin held by Dolphin Ecology Project volunteer along the banks of the St Lucie River, 2012.  (Photo Nic Mader)

Right now there are two “Unusual Mortality Events/UMEs” occurring in the Indian River Lagoon and  another along the Atlantic Coast. Hundreds of marine mammals and pelicans have died but fortunately the IRL UMEs have slowed down.

The UME  for Indian River Lagoon manatees “and pelicans” started in 2012; another for Indian River Lagoon bottle-nosed dolphins that do not usually leave the lagoon began in 2013; and the third  for larger Atlantic coast dwelling/migrating  bottle-nosed dolphins stated  around 2012/13. According to state and federal agencies, the Indian River Lagoon UMEs are “mysterious,” but thankfully “they” can say they know the  Atlantic dolphin  UME is “morbillavirus,” or dolphin measles.

Manatees/: (http://myfwc.com/research/manatee/rescue-mortality-response/mortality-statistics/)

Northern/central IRL bottle-nosed dolphins: (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/mmume/floridadolphins2013.html)

Atlantic bottle-bosed dolphins: (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/mmume/midatldolphins2013.html)

NOAA definition of a UME under Marine Mammal Act: (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/mmume/)

Interesting how in the Indian River Lagoon, the UMEs coincide with the also “mysterious” loss of 60% of its seagrasses since 2009/10; this situation really “crashed” and became public in 2013, simultaneous with the dumping from Lake Okeechobee and the peoples’ River Movement in Martin and St Lucie Counties in the southern lagoon.

SJRMWD seagrass loss data: (http://floridaswater.com/itsyourlagoon/)

For every day folk, unlike our  federal and state agencies, there  is no “mystery,”  there simply is not enough left for the animals to eat. While being so critical,  I should note a commonly spread falsehood, “that the releases from Lake Okeechobee are causing the die off in the northern/central lagoon,” is untrue. Certainly they negatively affect and help cause disease in the souther lagoon, but Brevard and Volusia counties, over a hundred miles north, are too distant for the releases to be killing these animals directly. Particularly northern lagoon dolphins who are very territorial and generally stay in either the north.

Nonetheless, it is worth noting that the southern lagoon right now, especially the Ft Pierce area, is one of the few half-way healthy areas remaining,  so dumping that is pushed up to Ft Pierce Inlet,  from Stuart, is part of an overall death for the IRL: north and central  horrid algae blooms and UMEs, and then the southern lagoon’s problems with Lake Okeechobee releases and its other canals causing seagrass loss, up to  85% according to Florida Oceanographic’s Mark Perry.

So UMEs in the IRL and seagrass loss are related and the agencies recognize this connection but still consider the UMEs a “mystery.”

To close, one of the concerns of Stephen McCulloch, former director of the marine mammal department at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, is that southwardly migrating dolphins along the Atlantic coast could enter the Indian River Lagoon, or a rare lagoon dolphin may exit an inlet and interact with oceanic dolphins then spreading  morbillavirus  among the already “mysteriously sick” Indian River Lagoon dolphins.

McCulloch is concerned if the virus entered the lagoon, it  could “kill them all.”

There were fewer than one thousand in the lagoon loosely documented before the 2013 IRL dolphin UME and now it is accepted that over 10 percent of those have died. This, as all marine mammal health, is a very serious matter.

LINK: Video IRL/UME by ORCA: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXahUnqfv78#t=28)

2 thoughts on “Understanding the Many “Unusual Mortality Events,” along the Indian River Lagoon

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s