Dolphins found dead were stranded during Sally

Waves batter the Pensacola Bay Bridge Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, in Pensacola, Fla. A portion of the bridge collapsed after a barge came loose and slammed the bridge during Hurricane Sally. (Tony Giberson/Pensacola News Journal via AP)

DAUPHIN ISLAND, Ala. (AP) -- Six dolphins found dead in an Alabama marsh likely became stranded as Hurricane Sally swept through the area this month, according to researchers.

A paddleboarder in Dauphin Island's Graveline Bay first spotted the remains of the dolphins Friday, according to a statement Tuesday from the Alabama Marine Mammal Stranding Network. The organization responded to find the bodies of six female Atlantic spotted dolphins hidden in the tall marsh grass.

Experts with the network called it "the first mass stranding of its kind" in Alabama. The last reported stranding of Atlantic spotted dolphins in the state was in 2018, and the marine mammals are usually found in deeper waters offshore.

The remains were taken to the Marine Mammal Research Center at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, where examinations found their stomachs nearly empty, meaning the dolphins may have been stranded alive for several days.

Researchers believe they came into the Mississippi Sound after becoming disoriented in the Gulf of Mexico during Hurricane Sally.

The slow-moving storm made landfall near Gulf Shores and the Alabama-Florida line Sept. 16 with 105 mph (165 kph) winds and rain measured in feet. The storm killed at least two people, swamped homes and forced the rescue of hundreds.

"We often see an increase in offshore species of dolphins and whales stranding after large storm events," said Stranding Coordinator Mackenzie Russell. "Unfortunately, these dolphins stranded in a remote marsh location that delayed their discovery and reporting to the stranding network."