Dolphins dying along Gulf Coast at triple normal rate

Lily Puckett

At least 279 dolphins have been found stranded along the Gulf Coast since February this year, three times the rate of dolphins that typically wash ashore. About 98 per cent of those dolphins have died.

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration, or NOAA, announced the alarming numbers on Friday. They are now trying to determine exactly like dolphins are dying such a high rate.

They believe that the biggest culprit is the BP oil spill of 2010, in which over 200 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico over an 87 day period, and this spring’s historic flooding in the Midwest. The biggest oil spill in US history, its effects, particularly on marine wildlife, are still being felt.

More than 150 dolphins died from the spill’s direct impact, of which more than 90 per cent were bottlenose.

In its aftermath, the spill was shown to have contributed contributed to the Gulf of Mexico’s largest and longest dolphin death trend.

Long-lasting effects, including lung damage, adrenal hormone abnormalities, and general poor condition, have been traced to it.

“We do know some of the health conditions ... are improving, but some have been slow to improve,” said Teri Rowles, coordinator for NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program.. “Reproduction in the heaviest-oiled areas continues below normal.”

The heavy flooding of the Mississippi River is thought to have pumped more freshwater, which harms dolphins, into the Gulf, as well, though a NOAA official said freshwater exposure “doesn’t appear to be the cause of death for all animals, so that’s something we’re continuing to investigate.”

The official said chemicals and other pollutants in the river water might share some of the blame.

Of the dead dolphins washed up onto the Gulf Coast shores of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, over 70 per cent of the lifeless bodies were too decomposed to study.