In 2005 and 2006, the central west Florida coast experienced two intense Karenia brevis red tide events lasting from February 2005 through December 2005 and August 2006 through December 2006. Strandings of sea turtles were increased in the study area with 318 turtles (n = 174, 2005; n = 144, 2006) stranding between 1 January 2005 and 31 December 2006 compared to the 12-yr average of 43 ± 23 turtles. Live turtles (n = 61) admitted for rehabilitation showed clinical signs including unresponsiveness, paresis, and circling. Testing of biological fluids and tissues for the presence of brevetoxin activity by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay found toxin present in 93% (52 of 56) of live stranded sea turtles, and 98% (42 of 43) of dead stranded sea turtles tested. Serial plasma samples were taken from several live sea turtles during rehabilitation and toxin was cleared from the blood within 5–80 days postadmit depending upon the species tested. Among dead animals the highest brevetoxin levels were found in feces, stomach contents, and liver. The lack of significant pathological findings in the majority of animals necropsied supports toxin-related mortality.
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