Algae toxins likely killing manatees, dolphins and pelicans

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INDIAN RIVER, Fla. — A federal researcher in South Carolina has isolated the “smoking gun” — or “guns” — that likely killed some 111 manatees, 51 dolphins and 300 pelicans during the past year: toxins from microscopic algae that cling to the seaweed that manatees and fish eat.

“We have found a number of toxins, I think at least three varieties,” said Peter Moeller, a research chemist at the National Ocean Service in Charleston.

But while Moeller has zeroed in on the toxins, researchers still don’t know what algae is producing them, nor do they know how to eliminate it from the Indian River Lagoon.

His lab isolated the toxins from tiny algae that sticks to seaweed called Gracilaria, or red drift algae. Scientists gathered the drift algae in late May from just south of Minutemen Causeway in Cocoa Beach, a hotspot for the mysterious manatee deaths.

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