Gulf Dolphins Still Struggling to Recover from BP Oil Spill

Striped dolphins swim through BP oil, April 2012 (NOAA's National Ocean Service)
With the Gulf oil disaster approaching the two-year mark, a new assessment from NOAA scientists says bottlenose dolphins are still feeling the BP oil spill’s ill effects – and some may not survive:

Based on comprehensive physicals of 32 live dolphins from Barataria Bay in the summer of 2011, preliminary results show that many of the dolphins in the study are underweight, anemic, have low blood sugar and/or some symptoms of liver and lung disease. Nearly half also have abnormally low levels of the hormones that help with stress response, metabolism and immune function.

Researchers fear that some of the study dolphins are in such poor health that they will not survive. One of these dolphins, which was last observed and studied in late 2011, was found dead in January 2012. […]

NOAA is sharing the preliminary results from the study so that stranding responders and veterinarians can better care for live stranded dolphins and look for similar health conditions.

Since February 2010, more than 675 dolphins have stranded in the northern Gulf of Mexico (Franklin County, Florida, to the Louisiana/Texas border)–a much higher rate than the usual average of 74 dolphins per year, prompting NOAA to declare an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) and investigate the cause of death for as many of the dolphins as possible. The vast majority of stranded dolphins have been found dead; however, 33 have stranded alive and seven have been taken to facilities for rehabilitation.

Last year, the National Wildlife issued a status report on Gulf wildlife and ecosystems warning  to watch dolphin populations for “reduced fitness of adults” – exactly what NOAA is now detailing. “The poor health of dolphins in the oil spill area was to be expected,” says NWF Senior Scientist Doug Inkley. “The Gulf oil disaster is to marine life what smoking is to humans – it could kill you, and if it doesn’t, your general health suffers.”

Dolphins aren’t the only species showing signs of long-term impacts. A study last year documented the oil’s impact on Gulf killifish, a critical part of the Gulf’s food chain.

Just last week, National Wildlife Federation staffers found oil remains in Barataria Bay marshes and discovered a dead pelican with oil on it. The trip was a reminder that Mississippi River Delta restoration is needed now more than ever. While the Senate passed the RESTORE Act as part of its transportation bill, the House has yet to act.

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