Gulfport marine rescuers prepare to respond to oil rig disaster - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Gulfport marine rescuers prepare to respond to oil rig disaster

Debris and oil from the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform float in the Gulf of Mexico after the rig sank April 22, 2010, (Photo source: US Coast Guard) Debris and oil from the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform float in the Gulf of Mexico after the rig sank April 22, 2010, (Photo source: US Coast Guard)
GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) -

By Meggan Gray – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - When the Deepwater Horizon started to sink Thursday, crude oil spilled across the Gulf of Mexico. Dr. Moby Solangi immediately worried about the marine animals living in that area.

"The Mississippi Sound and its adjacent waters harbor one of the largest dolphin populations in the United States," Dr. Solangi said. "They're also home to other endangered and threatened species like turtles, and anything that effects their habitat could mean serious problems."

Dr. Solangi is president of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, the only facility in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama equipped to handle strandings that may result from a disaster.

"We are fully prepared. This facility was designed for rehabilitation and to take care of strandings. We are looking at sending out somebody today [Friday] or tomorrow. We'll do a plane survey."

Solangi said oil can be deadly to marine animals.

"Their skins are very delicate and you'll start seeing sores on the skin. If it's turtles, they will not be able to breathe. They'll die, because the oil will be on their nasal sacks."

If they were to find any dolphins in distress, they'll immediately remove them from the water using a special harness, and bring them back to their quarantine facility off Gulfport's Industrial Canal for treatment.

Research assistants like Shea Eaves would then care for the animals.

"We would get a blood sample, we might try to get a gastric sample, a fecal sample, a blow hole sample," explained Eaves. "Those are all factors that we can send off to the hospital and have those results back in a pretty timely basis so we can kind of know what's going on internally and health wise with the animal."

If necessary, the Gulfport facility could take in as many as a dozen rescued dolphins or sea turtles. Whether that will be necessary won't be known until Dr. Solangi's team surveys the gulf.

Dr. Moby Solangi said another major concern is the long-term impact from this disaster.  He said oil could affect the food supply, and after time the contaminated food would make many animals sick.

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