Deaths Of Baby Dolphins Worry Scientists

a federal agency charged with monitoring the health of the Gulf of Mexico.

Moby Solangi, the executive director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS) in Gulfport, Mississippi, said Thursday he's never seen such high death numbers.

"I've worked with marine mammals for 30 years, and this is the first time we've seen such a high number of calves," he said. "It's alarming."

At least 24 baby dolphins have washed up on the shores of the two states since the beginning of the year -- more than ten times the normal rate. Also, six older dolphins died.

In January 2009 and 2010, no calf strandings were reported, compared to four in January 2011, the institute said. During the month of February for those years, only one calf stranding was reported each year.

Blair Mase, lead marine mammal stranding coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), echoed Solangi's concern.

"It's not common for this time of year to recover such young animals. When you put the numbers together, it's quite high compared to previous years."

The occurrence has prompted NOAA to designate these deaths as an "unusual mortality event" -- defined as a stranding incident that is unexpected or involves a significant loss of any marine mammal population.

While bottlenose dolphins are actually the most-frequently found stranding animal, the season usually begins in March, according to Mase.