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Pollution could be driving manatees and dolphins into the Imperial River in Southwest Florida

Posted at 7:54 AM, May 23, 2019

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(WBBH/NBC) BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. - Pods of manatees and dolphins are being spotted in larger numbers than usual in a river in Southwest Florida.

Pods of manatees and dolphins have been appearing frequently in the Imperial River around Bonita Springs.

While it's typical in the winter, experts say it is rare for this time of year.

They say the increase in the water-dwelling mammals could be because of the damaging effects of pollution and last year's red tide.

Experts say manatees should be in the estuaries and coastal waters eating seagrasses, but pollution in the form of runoff has been killing those plants.

Last year's red tide could explain the dolphin sightings. Since a lot of fish were lost, they could be looking for more food.

"One of the things that I think might be happening is the seagrass in Estero Bay, that's left, is so covered with unpalatable algae that the manatees don't want to eat it," said Dr. James Douglass, a Florida Gulf Coast University Water School Associate Professor. "We certainly lost a lot of fish in the red tide bloom, and so the dolphins may be looking further afield for food sources."

Experts say if you live on the water in Florida, let plants and grasses grow along the edge because they are a valuable source of food for manatees.