Experts say dolphins are our "canary in the coal mine" - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Experts say dolphins are our "canary in the coal mine"

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GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) -

By Rebecca Powers - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - "The canary in the coal mine." That's what dolphins are, according to scientists at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport.

They say dolphins are the best barometer for the health of our environment. And a 15 fold spike in dead dolphins and their calves has them very concerned.

Monday, two more dolphins washed ashore in Gulfport and Pass Christian. That brings the number of dolphins that have died in recent weeks along the shores of the Gulf Coast region to 77, and the number of stillborns to 36.

Scientists who have dedicated their lives work to the study of bottle nose dolphins take on the arduous, but very important task of retrieving the dead animals in Mississippi and Alabama.

Dr. Moby Solangi, with the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, said the numbers are alarming.

"This is a very unusual spike. It's a 15 fold increase in the months of January and February," Solangi said. "We have, at the moment, 44 that we found dead; 36 are calves, many of them were either still born, premature, or died shortly thereafter. This is the first calving season after the oil spill."

With a 12 month gestation period, these dead calves weren't even supposed to be born until March, April or May. But researchers say don't jump to conclusions about oil being the cause.

"As a good forensic study. Of course, the oil spill may be an important factor, but there are other infectious diseases, environmental conditions that we really have to look at before we can jump to conclusions," Dr. Moby Solangi said.

He said what happens inside the necropsy lab is the most important part of their quest to find the truth.

"We try to find what actually transpired. We dissect an animal, we get the organs, we send them off for pathology and toxicology."

Their final conclusions could take weeks. But Solangi said if you're not really interested in dolphins and wonder why this matters so much, the next link on the chain of life, is humans.

"These animals are top of the food chain. They're mammals like you and I. They give birth to babies and are given milk, so they are good biological indicators of the environment. So ultimately, what happens to them will happen to us. So basically, they are the canary in the mine."

Researchers at IMMS say if you ever see a dead or sick dolphin, please call 1-888-SOS-DOLPHIN immediately.

And they need volunteers of all kinds, especially people with skills in the medical or biological fields. Contact them at http://www.imms.org/ or call (228) 896-9182.

Copyright 2011 WLOX. All rights reserved.

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