GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The deaths of five young dolphins over the past week has marine scientists concerned.
Those dolphin calves washed-up along the beach in Harrison County, but it's not yet known what caused their deaths.
Scientists at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies hosted a "stranding seminar" Wednesday to let law enforcers and others know exactly what to do when injured or sick dolphins wash ashore.
Dr. Moby Solangi says in the recovery of stranded dolphins, whether dead or alive, time is critical. With the "calving" season now underway, there may be more young dolphins getting stranded along our beaches
"This is when the animals come into the shallow water and give birth. Already in the past week, we've had five calves. It's a little unusual," said Dr. Solangi.
That's why the "stranding seminar" comes at just the right time. The aim is to educate law enforcers and others about the proper response to stranded marine animals.
Dr. Delphine Vanderpool is an IMMS researcher who directed the presentation.
"It includes sick or injured animals. Or animals that are in distress. They may be in shallow water, not swimming properly. Behaving oddly. Not able to keep themselves upright and their blow hole out of water," she told the group.
It's not always injured or sick animals. Sometimes, dolphins or other marine mammals find themselves in unfamiliar waters.
"The animal might be lost in an estuary or bayou. Might be stuck in shallow water at low tide. Or might be trapped behind a levee. For these strandings, we can relocate the animal to an open body of water," said research assistant Shea Eaves.
IMMS researchers emphasize that time is critical in responding to any reported stranding.
"It's extremely important that we get to an animal, even when it is dead. Because of the deterioration of the tissues and especially when it's alive, every moment is critical," said Dr. Solangi
When possible, injured or sick animals are nursed back to health. In the case of death, studies in the lab are done to try and pinpoint the cause.
"Some examples of the kind of tests that we run are histopathology to identify disease. Toxicology to identify any heavy metals, poisonous chemicals or pollutants which may have contributed to the animal's death," said Eaves.
Again, the cause of the recent dolphin deaths remains a mystery. Test results are pending.
The IMMS team is part of the Dolphin Rescue Network. To report a stranded dolphin, the hotline number to call is 1-888-SOS-DOLPHIN.