Bizarre fish behavior baffles experts in Lower Florida Keys

By Louis Aguirre.

BIG PINE KEY, Fla. – A marine mystery has researchers searching for answers in the Lower Florida Keys.

Since December, 20 critically endangered smalltooth sawfish have been reported dead, according to the latest numbers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“This is a very large species and the size of the sawfish we’re seeing coming inshore and eventually dying,” said Gil McRae, director of FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.

And while smalltooth sawfish are the only species reported dead, they are not the only ones seeing an impact.

“That’s not something I’ve ever seen fish do…ever,” said Gregg Furstenwerth, a resident of Little Torch Key.

More than a dozen species of all sizes from pinfish to grouper have been observed acting erratically, spinning, and distressed.

It’s leaving longtime residents like Furstenwerth, who is also a technical diver, with deep concerns.

“It’s disturbing if it keeps going it’s the end of an ecosystem as we know it,” said Furstenwerth.

The event seems to be centered between Cudjoe and Big Pine Key, but residents have reported sightings to Local 10 from Key West to Marathon.

“You can pretty much see this happening every day,” said Furstenwerth.

The diver has been diligently documenting the spinning fish since late last year.

“Are you seeing more and more species being impacted?” asked Local 10 News anchor and environmental advocate Louis Aguirre.

“Yes,” responded Furstenwerth.

At the moment, no one knows what’s behind the strange occurrence.

So far, early testing has ruled out red tide, low oxygen, disease and other pathogens.

“Our current line of inquiry are focusing on potential biotoxins produced by algae in the water “, FWC’s McCrae told Local 10. “Right now, we do not have a smoking gun relative to a particular toxin that may be causing these issues.”