MARATHON, Fla. (March 6) - The U.S. Navy and marine wildlife
experts are investigating whether a submarine used sonar before dozens of
dolphins beached themselves near Marathon.
More than 20 rough-toothed dolphins have died since Wednesday's
mass grounding of about 68 dolphins, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
spokeswoman Cheva Heck said Saturday. Many of the survivors were being moved
Saturday to rehabilitation centers in the Florida Keys.
were taken to Summerland Key to be cared for by the Florida Keys Marine
Mammal Rescue Team and 25 were sent to the Marine Mammal Conservancy on
Two dolphins went to the Marine Animal Rescue Society in Miami
late Friday. Some of the dolphins were transported in a refrigerated Publix
Super Markets semitrailer.
Experts don't yet know how long they will be in rehabilitation.
"We won't authorize release until we feel they can survive
in the wild," Heck said. "We don't want to release them and see
The beachings came a day after the USS Philadelphia conducted
exercises off Key West, about 45 miles from Marathon. Navy officials refused
to say whether the Groton, Conn.-based submarine used its sonar during a
training exercise with Navy SEALs.
But naval ships emitting pulses of sound have been blamed
for at least one mass beaching. Scientists surmise that sonar may disorient
or scare marine mammals, causing them to surface too quickly and creating
the equivalent of what divers know as the bends - when nitrogen is formed
in tissue by sudden decompression, leading to hemorrhaging.
"This is absolutely high priority," said Lt. Cdr.
Jensin Sommer, spokeswoman for Norfolk, Va.-based Naval Submarine Forces.
"We are looking into this. We want to be good stewards of the environment,
and any time there are strandings of marine mammals we look into the operations
and locations of any ships that might have been operating in that area."
National Marine Fisheries Service experts are conducting necropsies
on the dead dolphins, looking for signs of acoustic trauma.
"We certainly will do a thorough exam on as many as possible
before we go to the Navy," said Teri Rowles, coordinator of the service's
marine mammal health and stranding response program.
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