If you are a wild dolphin lover and have been wondering how the Gulf Coast dolphins are doing, you will saddened by the latest news. It appears dolphins and other coastal animals are not doing well a year and a half after the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast.
Hundreds of bottlenose dolphins have washed ashore on northern gulf beaches since the event unfolded, and they continue to do so at alarming rates. Dolphins in this region have been stranding at six times the average rate. Scientists are scrambling to determine why this is happening.
Estimates of stranded and dead dolphins range from 350 – 500 since the event. According to the National Wildlife Foundation only 1 in 50 dolphins that die actually turn up on area beaches. What this means is that most dead dolphins are never recovered. So, in reality, the death toll in this region is most likely much higher.
Are the dolphin deaths related to the oil spill or is something else going on?
We do know that NOAA has declared the stranding experience an “Unusual Mortality Event”. This means the federal government has determined that something strange is going on. Researchers are unclear if the oil spill is to blame, or if other factors are causing the deaths. We do know the bottlenose dolphins are stranding across a huge coastal area in the northern Gulf, and they continue to do so today. This map from NOAA shows recent dolphin stranding data in the region of concern.
An increase in stillbirths and deaths of infant dolphins during the previous calving season is suspicious. There is some speculation that the adult dolphins ingested the pollutants and the babies are paying the price. The NOAA Unusual Mortality Event page has excellent comparison data on average cetacean strandings\deaths in the region compared with deaths since the oil spill. I highly recommend checking out their site.
Researchers are working to determine the cause of the deaths. They are also collecting samples and data from live wild dolphins in the local waters. Due to the ongoing investigation of the oil spill, the results of these studies are not yet known.
If you would like to help the dolphins and other animals affected by the oil spill, the National Wildlife Foundation would be a good place to start.