Since the start of 2011, twenty-four dolphin calves have been found dead on shores of Alabama and Mississippi – about ten times what’s normal. Scientists, as you might imagine, aren’t happy about what that number says about the health of the Gulf of Mexico. No one’s shouting BP! BP!, but the folks investigating the circumstances behind the dolphin deaths aren’t ruling out after-effects of the oil spill as a potential cause. Make of that what you will, since the jury is still out.
The IMMS said it has been able to perform full necropsies on a third of the 24 calves. The majority of the calves were too decomposed for a full examination, but the institute has taken tissue samples for analysis.
“In a world when we wouldn’t be dealing with oil-spill protocols, we’d typically get results in about three weeks to a month,” [Blair Mase of NOAA] said. “We aren’t going to see results as quickly as we’d like to. We will be making sure these samples are collected, taken back and analyzed, but it could take several months.”
While none of the 30 dolphins were found with any oil on them, Mase said the agency is not ruling anything in or out on the cause of death.
There are plenty of possibilities. Six of the bodies were found intact enough for dissection, and were found to be a mix of stillborn, premature, and full-term calves that died shortly after birth. Marine mammals like dolphins are particularly sensitive to algae blooms, diseases that spread through pods, temperature and environmental changes, and of course, human impact. Which means that it could be anything.
But when we’re seeing 10 times the normal number of dead dolphins washing up on shore over in an area large enough to indicate multiple pods may be involved and scientists are calling the numbers “unprecedented,” something weird is probably going on. Right?