News Stories

Red Tide: Scientists Test Dead Animals For Toxins

Thousands of fish, nearly a hundred manatees, and several dolphins…all dead and washed ashore in the past few months.

Most people said red tide killed them and scientists say they’re probably right.

“Right now I would say if it’s dead and it’s on the beach, chances are that it’s 99% likely that it has red tide poisoning,” Dr. Heather Barron, Research Director at Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife Visitor Center, said.

How can scientists tell?

They use what they call the ELSA test. The enzyme-linked Immunosorben assay test.

That test determines the level of toxins in the blood. In these cases, they’re looking for Karenia Brevis toxins, also known as red tide.

“We can also test it in feces or tissues in the body. So even in an animal that’s dead where you can’t necessarily get the blood from that animal, we can test the liver, for example, and that would usually let us know,” Dr. Barron said.

The timeline for these tests vary. They depend on the amount of samples the lab has to compare toxin levels, so it could take a while to figure out what actually killed an animal.

Smaller sea animals like fish that wash up on shore don’t get tested, usually. But larger animals like sea turtles and dolphins do.

They get picked up by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission — and they test the animal to determine its cause of death.

So the chances of a fish washing up on shore because of natural causes is possible, but probably not likely right now.

If you see a large sea animal, call FWC. They’ll pick it up and figure out what happened to it.

RELATED: Red Tide Impacting SWFL Businesses, Wildlife

RELATED: How Long Will Red Tide Stick Around SWFL?

Reporting by Jalyn Henderson