PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) – Officials believe a naturally occurring biotoxin may have caused the deaths of nearly 50 dolphins that have washed up on Panhandle beaches.

The National Marine Fisheries Service launched a federal investigation into the deaths to determine why the dolphins began washing up March 10.

“The primary suspect right now is red tide, or a biotoxin associated with it,” said Laura Engleby, a biologist with the fisheries service.

Red tide is a toxic algae bloom known to kill sea life. Test results returned Wednesday from samples of fish carcasses showed evidence of red tide, Engleby said.

Water samples and samples taken from the dolphins should return more conclusive results within the next few days, she said.

Under normal circumstances, 10 to 20 dolphin carcasses wash up each year.

AP-ES-03-18-04 0545EST



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