Divers and snorkelers formed a quarter-mile-long human chain to help push about 20 stranded dolphins back out to sea after the mammals became trapped in shallow water off one of the Florida Keys.
Rescue efforts concluded late Monday off Long Key, with all of the dolphins clear of the shore and rescuers hoping they would stay in deeper water, said Lisa Henley, an officer with the Florida Marine Patrol.
At least 23 bottle-nosed dolphins died after becoming stuck in tidal flats Sunday night during low tide, said Steve Acton, an officer with the marine patrol.
One dolphin remained under observation in a holding tank, and others in the herd seemed reluctant to leave while the disabled dolphin remained in the area, Acton said.
The trapped dolphins were part of a group of up to 100 that began coming ashore Sunday evening.
Residents went into the water to keep the dolphins from coming into the shallows of the bay, where some scratched themselves on the jagged, rocky bottom.
"If it weren't for their efforts, the majority of the animals would have died," Acton said.
Officials with the National Marine Fisheries Service were leading rescue efforts and an investigation to find out why the dolphins were coming ashore. At least one of the dead dolphins appeared to have a tumor, but it was not known if that was related.
More than 100 dolphins died in late 1999 after being stranded. Examinations of stranded dolphins that died in north Florida showed the animals had lesions in their lungs and respiratory tracts. Red tide toxins have been suspected in those cases.
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