April 18, 2011

Study Of Gulf Dolphin Mortality Being Hampered

Scientists at the Institute of Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi claim that a federal agency's practice of returning rescued dolphins far offshore is hampering attempts to investigate dolphin deaths following the BP oil spill last year, Moby Solangi, director of the institute, tells Reuters.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is confirming that two dolphins found in low tide on a Louisiana beach were returned to water deep enough for them to swim away. "These animals had no signs of external oil and were deemed healthy and robust," NOAA spokeswoman Kim Amendola said, adding that beach releases are a viable option in some circumstances.

"The animals were pushed to deeper water by our stranding network partner, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and swam off on their own," Amendola said.

Researchers are asking that weakened and stranded dolphins instead be rescued and tested.

Explaining that returning the dolphins to deeper waters also was undermining efforts to determine who is responsible for the rash of sea animal deaths in Gulf waters, Solangi explains, "We are not able to conduct necropsies on these animals any more either. This is all because of the BP criminal investigation."

Of the 406 dolphins that are reported to have washed ashore in the last 14 months, 15 had oil on their bodies, NOAA claimed. Deepwater Horizon oil was confirmed to be contaminating bottlenose dolphins, one had an unknown oil and two have not been tested.

Meanwhile, the National Marine Fisheries Service has asked biologists to not publish or leak any findings they have concerning the increases in dolphin mortality or on collected specimens and tissue samples of the dolphins.

"Scientists try to get to the truth of the matter when the government is worried about political ramifications," said Dr. Mark Peterson of the College of Marine Sciences at the University of Southern Mississippi.

"It would be a good idea to test a stranded dolphin, but I guess someone has to worry about the cost of taking the animal to a rehabilitation facility," Peterson told Reuters reporter Leigh Coleman.

An "unusual mortality event," was declared by NOAA that has been seen since last February, after a sharp increase of the numbers of dead dolphins have been washing up in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, Reuters reports.

Of the 153 confirmed deaths this year, 65 of them newly born or stillborn calves, NOAA reported recently. Since mid-March, about 120 dead sea turtles also have been found, although the carcasses had no visible traces of oil, said Barbara Schroeder, NOAA Fisheries national sea turtle coordinator.


On the Net: