One by one, three dead Kemp's ridley sea turtles were found on beaches in Biloxi, Gulfport and Long Beach over the weekend.
It concerns marine biologists, and not just because the Kemp's ridley is one of the rarest species of sea turtles and one of the world's most endangered turtles.
"Top-of-the-food-chain animals like dolphins and turtles reflect the health of their environment," said Moby Solangi, executive director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies.
"They're like the canary in the mine, so to speak. Monitoring their health and reasons for their death is how we are able to gauge what's going on out there, what's going on with them and the health of their environment."
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Sun Herald
Marine biologists want the public to let them know if they find a wounded, dead or hooked sea turtle.
A total of six dead turtles have come ashore on the Mississippi Coast this year, while 27 dolphins have been found dead on beaches, said Eric Pulis, marine conservation ecologist for IMMS.
A turtle found caught in a dredge at Petit Bois Island is being rehabilitated at IMMS, he said.
Pulis said the turtles found washed ashore over the weekend were in Long Beach near the foot of Lewis Avenue, in Biloxi in front of Sharkhead's Souvenir Shop near Rodenburg Avenue and in Gulfport near Arkansas Avenue.
"We take samples of their tissues so we can analyze it microscopically," said Dr. Debra Moore, an IMMS veterinarian.
"We try to determine, if possible, how they died. After the necropsy (an autopsy), we send it to other laboratories to identify different things. It's a combination of what we can see with our naked eye and all the things that make a difference."
It's too early to say how the turtles found over the weekend died, Moore said.
Kemp's ridley sea turtles spend most of their lives at sea and migrate long distances. The females come ashore to lay their eggs.
IMMS learned about the three beached turtles from calls made to its hotline.
IMMS handles wounded and dead marine mammals found in Harrison and Hancock counties. The Mississippi Fisheries Laboratory in Pascagoula, staffed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, handles mammals found in Jackson County.
Both agencies work together and they each have a hotline to report wounded, dead or hooked mammals.
The IMMS hotline is 888-SOS-DOLPHIN (767-3657).
The Mississippi Sea Turtle Stranding hotline is 228-369-4796.