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The dolphins in the bay

Dolphins in Galveston Bay are having health issues.

Kristi Fazioli first spotted the pair of dolphins swimming behind a shrimp trawler near Morgan’s Point, eager to get a mouthful of breakfast.

They appeared healthy as they popped in and out of the choppy waters typical for a November day on Galveston Bay. But a second glance showed the truth: Their skin was mottled and blotchy, covered in a patchwork of white lesions that stood in stark contrast to the gray coloring characteristic of bottlenose dolphins.

Where some might have winced at the dolphins’ sickly appearance, Fazioli, a research associate at the University of Houston-Clear Lake’s Environmental Institute of Houston, calmly snapped photos of the lesions, documenting the time, date and place of the sighting.

This is the post-Hurricane Harvey reality for the popular bay dolphins, known to swim alongside boats and ferries throughout Galveston Bay. Nearly three months after the storm’s destruction, the more than 500 dolphins she’s documented in Upper Galveston Bay still are struggling to recover.

After the storm, some dolphins turned up with excessive skin lesions. Others were skinny and malnourished. Still others vacated the bay and have not returned for the season.

These changes in dolphin health and behavior have been observed in other areas after hurricanes, but Fazioli said little is known about the short- and long-term impacts of such an event.

Excess amounts of freshwater, and higher levels of pollution, are considered possible causes. Both resulted from the rain and runoff in Hurricane Harvey. Researchers are trying to get a better handle on it now, and they should have a lot of data to work with. I wish them the best.

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