UNF researchers look at if dredging is hurting dolphins in the St. Johns River

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Some dolphins in the St. johns river are getting sick… some aren’t even eating.

Researchers at the University of North Florida are trying to figure out if dredging is to blame.

Dr. Quincy Gibson is an associate professor of coastal biology at UNF and her research team have been studying bottle nose dolphins for the past 8 years.

This year they’re worried because they’re not seeing as many dolphins in the St. Johns River as they normally would.



“My team was going out twice a week and they were coming home halfway throughout the day which is unheard of for the summer months. Usually we’re out until the sun sets because there’s so many animals to document,” Gibson said.

Not only are dolphin sightings down, researchers say the ones they are seeing don’t look healthy.

Some of these dolphins are so skinny you can see their rib cages, while others have horrible skin legions.

Florida Fish and Wildlife have performed necropsies on some of those dolphins and found almost nothing in their stomachs.

The question, is dredging to blame?

Researchers at UNF tell us that these sorts of projects could be hurting the dolphin habitat in the St. Johns River.

“The question is did they reach a threshold at which they’re going to get pushed out of the area because the habitat quality is so bad or is it still so important to them that they’re going to keep using it even though the habitat has degraded in quality,” Gibson said.


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Dr. Gibson says it could be a combination of dredging and poor water quality that's hurting the dolphins' food supply.  This  year, her team has counted about 6 dolphins that have died, but they are hoping that will change. 
"Just making sure Army Corps is working closely with groups such as ourselves and the river keeper to make sure they are making decisions about the configuration of dredging and where it's happening and where it's happening to minimize those impacts if possible," said Dr. Gibson.