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A Mysterious Phenomenon Is Killing Tens Of Thousands Of Animals

"Born and raised in Florida and I've never seen it this bad."

No one knows exactly why this year's "red tide" is so deadly, but Florida Governor Rick Scott just declared a state of emergency because thousands of animals — fish, sea turtles, dolphins, manatees and even whale sharks — are turning up dead, washing up on shores and floating to the surface of the waters.

Whale shark killed by red tide poisoning in Florida
Whale shark killed by the red tide in Florida | Matt Devitt WINK Weather/Facebook

The images are apocalyptic — crows and vultures diving toward the carcasses are the only signs of life along some shorelines in seven southwestern counties of Florida. And even these birds who ingest the toxins contained in these bodies are in danger. 

Fish killed by the red tide toxic algae bloom in Florida
Matt Devitt WINK Weather/Facebook

To some extent, the red tide is natural — it's a certain kind of algae bloom. The red tide produces a poisonous neurotoxin, though, and this can cause the nervous systems of animals to shut down.

Warning: Disturbing images below

Baby sea turtle killed by the red tide
Matt Devitt WINK Weather/Facebook

"In sea turtles, clinical signs often include being very weak or lethargic, sometimes to the point the turtle is in a comatose state, and gastrointestinal issues," Heather Barron, medical and research director at the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW), told The Dodo last week after saving two loggerhead sea turtles from the brink of death. "It can even be harmful to humans on the beach by causing respiratory issues or can make people sick (neurotoxic shellfish poisoning) if they consume shellfish contaminated with the toxin." 

Dolphin dead because of the red tide
Matt Devitt WINK Weather/Facebook

Some research has shown a link between worsening harmful algae blooms and pollutants people put in the water, like pesticides and agricultural run-off. Other indicators show that warming waters can be host to more harmful bacteria, and so a warming climate could see more toxic events like this. Scientists are still trying to track the exact causes of the harmful algae blooms in different locations across the planet and determine just how often toxic events like the red tide are likely to recur in the future. 

Red tide algae in Florida
Matt Devitt WINK Weather/Facebook

Meanwhile, people are trying to save all the animals they can before its too late. For sea turtles, especially, the poisonous algae bloom is a blow — all species of sea turtles are considered either threatened or endangered because of a plethora of dangers they face such as pollution, fishing and habitat loss. 

Vulture eating dead manatee in Florida
Matt Devitt WINK Weather/Facebook

"Born and raised in Florida and I've never seen it this bad," local weatherman Matt Dewitt wrote on Facebook.

To help save animals from the red tide, you can make a donation to CROW. You can also make a donation to the Sea Turtle Conservancy