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Florida sawfish deaths, 'spinning' fish decline

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TALLAHASSEE - Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials hope they are seeing decreased incidents of what are described as "erratically spinning fish" and smalltooth sawfish deaths in the Florida Keys.

Gil McRae, director of the commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, said that a decrease in incidents of spinning fish the past two weeks could be a sign that "we're on the tail end of this event." But the cause of the erratic behavior, believed to be related to an increase in sawfish deaths, remains unclear.

"Right now, everything is pointing to what is likely a naturally occurring species or multiple species of algae that produce low levels of toxins. These are neurotoxins that would be consistent with the behavioral changes that we've seen in the fish," McRae said. "As I said, we're not sure why the sawfish are disproportionately affected. In fact, these large sawfish that we have coming in, normally would be offshore at this time of year. So, there's still a lot of things to figure out."

The first reports of spinning fish came in fall 2023, with sawfish deaths beginning in January. McRae said red tide and dissolved oxygen issues have been ruled out, as samples have been taken from more than 300 fish and necropsies have been conducted on 32 of the 45 dead sawfish. 

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