At least 279 dolphins have been stranded along the Gulf Coast since February, scientists say
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At least 279 dolphins — triple the average number — have been stranded along parts of the Gulf Coast since February, and 98 percent of them have died, scientists say.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported the figures on Friday, according to The Associated Press.

The federal agency has said scores of bottlenose dolphins have been stranded since Feb. 1, with scientists declaring an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) along the Northern Gulf of Mexico.

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A UME is defined as "a stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population; and demands immediate response,” according to the NOAA.

The dolphins are turning up along the coast of states including Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, federal scientists say.

Mississippi had 121 dolphin strandings as of Wednesday, with 89 in Louisiana, 32 in Alabama and 37 in Florida, the AP reported.

Scientists will investigate whether the 2010 BP oil spill is still affecting these areas and the surrounding wildlife, as well as the impact of low salinity, Teri Rowles, coordinator for NOAA fisheries’ marine mammal health and stranding response program, said Friday.

The BP spill caused numerous health problems and contributed to the Gulf of Mexico’s largest and longest epidemic of dying dolphins.

Other potential causes of the recent strandings could include pollutants in the water and changes in dolphins' prey, the AP noted.

Meanwhile, scientists haven’t figured out what’s causing the event, in part because the dolphins' bodies they have recovered have decomposed, making it difficult to collect samples. Some have also been stranded in remote places, making it harder to recover the carcasses.