BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. -

Fifty-four bottle-nose dolphins have been found dead in the Indian River Lagoon since Jan. 1, over three times the average.

With the alarming number of deaths, local scientists turned to a federal panel of marine experts who declared the deaths as "unusual." That word will allow federal dollars to be spent to study the deaths.

"When it comes to a die-off and when it is a significant portion of the population, which it is at this time, we really need to find out if there is an underlying factor. So, it's not what each individual is dying from, it's is there something that ties them together," said Megan Stolen with Hubbs-Seaworld Research Institute.

Stolen hopes that federal funding and new resources will answer some of the questions her team has been facing over the last eight months.

"Part of that is to step outside of our normal sample response and look for things like toxins, contaminants, and infectious diseases that we wouldn't normally see in the population," said Stolen. "To do that, we need experts."

One problem that has troubled scientists, seagrass doesn't populate the Indian River Lagoon like it used to.

"Dolphins in the river depend on fish that are directly dependent on seagrass," Stolen said.

That's why a $110,000 experiment to transplant seagrass from Vero Beach to Titusville is in place.

Jeff Mahl, an avid fisherman, said he's happy to hear about federal dollars being used to help fix the river.

"Anything we can do to protect it," Mahl said. "Whether it is a little bit of cost or whatever is worth it in the end, I think."

Biologists want residents to call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission as soon as you see a dolphin that may be in distress.