Yesterday, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published new results from a series of studies in which they have investigated the unusually high number of dolphin deaths occurring in the Gulf of Mexico. Since 2010, scientists have conducted autopsies on dead dolphins to try and understand why they are dying.
They found significantly higher numbers of dolphins with severe lung disease and lesions on their adrenal glands in oiled areas than in non-oiled areas. Dr. Stephanie Venn-Watson described the adrenal disease as forcing dolphins to precariously balance on a ledge which cold temperatures, pregnancy and infection can push them off, resulting in death. The lesions observed in dolphins were “some of the most severe lung lesions ever seen in wild dolphins throughout the U.S.” according to lead Pathologist, Dr. Katie Colegrove. NOAA is decisive in concluding that the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster caused the dolphin deaths in the Northern Gulf: “The timing, location, and nature of the detected lesions support that contaminants from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused these lesions and contributed to the high numbers of dolphin deaths within this oil spill’s footprint.”
Over the past five years, unusually high numbers of dolphins have been dying in the Gulf of Mexico. The National Marine Fisheries Service declared an unusual mortality event back in December 2010. While it’s easy to assume that the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster is to blame for these sick and dying dolphins, it’s important to have the scientific evidence to hold BP accountable.
Last week a group of 16 scientists published a paper with detailed information when and where dolphins are dying across the five Gulf states. Since first reading this paper last week, I’ve been thinking about what it means that the clusters of dolphins with the highest and longest mortality rates were those in Barataria Bay following the oil disaster, and also those where oil landed in Mississippi and Alabama in 2011. The authors of the study don’t hesitate to make inferences about the connection to the oil disaster, and so neither should we.
Marine mammals are some of the most beloved animals in our ocean. Whether you have a soft spot for majestic whales, playful seals or adorable sea otters, you have reason to celebrate. Today marks the 42nd anniversary of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, an important piece of legislation that protects all marine mammal species found in U.S. waters.
A recent Financial Times article reported that BP rejected the government’s $147 million request to fund Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) activities in 2014 as part of ongoing efforts to quantify and remedy environmental harm related to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. The law requires that responsible parties of oil spills, including BP, pay for reasonable costs of assessing oil spill damage to the environment. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) submitted the request, which was the latest in a series of routine requests the NRDA Trustee agencies have submitted since the disaster in 2010. Undertaking scientific study and analysis is the only way for the Trustee agencies to document environmental harm caused by the disaster and to estimate the cost of restoration, for which BP and other companies found liable are responsible. The NRDA injury studies will help guide the types of actions needed to restore resources injured by the disaster. By law, BP may participate in NRDA studies the company funds, but the Trustee agencies analyze the raw data independent of BP and form their own conclusions about natural resource injuries.
Nearly four years after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, we are beginning to see scientific data that points to the injury caused to important marine mammals like the bottlenose dolphin. A recent NOAA-commissioned study of 32 dolphins living in Barataria Bay, Louisiana – an area of the Gulf heavily oiled by the BP oil disaster – determined that dolphins had severely reduced health.
The animals showed multiple signs of poor health, including tooth loss, lung disease, reduced hormone levels and low body weight. These symptoms were not seen in dolphins at an unoiled comparison site or in previous dolphin health assessments unrelated to this study.