February 23, 2011

Baby Dolphins Found Dead Along Gulf Coast

Researchers reported on Wednesday that baby dolphins are washing up dead along the oil-soaked U.S. Gulf Coast at over 10 times the normal rate in the first birthing season since the BP disaster.

The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies said that about 17 baby dolphin corpses have been found along the shorelines of Alabama and Mississippi in the past two weeks.

"The average is one or two a month. This year we have 17, and February isn't even over yet," Moby Solangi, director of the Gulfport, Mississippi-based institute, said in a statement to the Sun Hearld.

"For some reason, they've started aborting or they were dead before they were born."

Solangi is awaiting results from a necropsy performed on Monday on two of the dolphins to determine a cause of death.

However, he called the high numbers an anomaly and said the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which unleashed millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over three months, played a part.

Adult dolphin deaths tripled last year to 89 from a normal rate of about 30.

"We shouldn't really jump to any conclusions until we get some results," Solangi said. "But this is more than just a coincidence."

Officials said the bodies of 26 infant and stillborn dolphins have been discovered since January 20 in marshes and on beaches along 200 miles of coastline from Louisiana east across Mississippi to Gulf Shores, Alabama.

"When the world sees something like baby dolphins washing up on shore, it pulls at the heartstrings, and we all want to know why," Blair Mase, marine mammal strandings coordinator for the Southeast region of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told Reuters.

Solangi said that tally is over 10 times the number normally found washed up along those states during this time of the year, which is calving season for about 2,000 and 5,000 dolphins in the region.

Dolphins breed in the spring and carry their young for 11 to 12 months. 

Birthing season goes into full swing in March and April.

The oil from the spill spread through the water column in massive underwater plumes and also worked its way into the bays and shallow waters where dolphins breed and give birth.


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