GALVESTON—It is not unusual to see dolphins frolicking off the Texas coast. What is unusual is the number of them washing ashore.
Since November, the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network agency has seen more than 120 dolphins wash up on beaches.
"We are just trying to determine whether it is something that’s human-induced or naturally occurring," said Heidi Whitehead with the TMMSN.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration listed it as an "unusual mortality" event. NOAA is investigating the cause. Everything from an algae bloom, or red tide, to the 2010 BP oil spill will be considered.
The stranded dolphins were rescued in Galveston, Brazoria, Calhoun, Kleberg and Aransas counties. Only a handful of them were living at the time.
None survived, despite the efforts of TMMSN experts and volunteers.
Whitehead said it has happened before. More than 100 dolphins turned up dead along the coast five years ago, but the cause was never confirmed.
This time, marine researchers say the dolphins are less decomposed. They are hopeful that can help them determine the cause of death.
Preliminary findings included: infection in the lung; poor body condition and discoloration of the teeth. Four dolphins also had a black/grey thick mud-like substance in their stomachs.
"We have been working hard to collect in a systemic approach and rule things out as we go along," Whitehead said.
In the meantime, those who rely on the water say they have not noticed anything out of the ordinary. Captain Bud Babcock leads Baywatch’s daily dolphin tours.
"They look fat and healthy," Babcock said. "We see a lot of them, a lot of big numbers in pods." He said he has seen many young dolphins in particular.
The Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network began tracking dolphin death rates about 30 years ago. This marks the fifth time it has witnessed such an above-average year.