Teams prepare for influx of oil injured marine life - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Teams prepare for influx of oil injured marine life

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) -

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - As the offshore oil slick drifts in the gulf, animal experts are gearing-up for the expected influx of marine life injured by oil.

NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service discussed that aspect of the crisis during a news conference Wednesday at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport.

Dr. Moby Solangi's facility in Gulfport is one of four gulf facilities, designated by NOAA, to handle any injured marine animals.

Turtles have gotten plenty of attention in recent days. But so far, the deaths of 37 sea turtles, have not been linked to the oil spill and may in fact be simply the "normal strandings" expected this time of year.

However, oil injured animals are expected in the coming days, since NOAA helicopter flights saw marine animals in and around the oil spill.

Sheryan Epperly is NOAA's representative with National Fisheries Service.

"We are seeing turtles and marine mammals, including dolphins, various species of dolphins and whales, in and outside of the oil," she said at the news conference.

Injured dolphins would likely be cared for in Gulfport. The curiosity of the creatures could mean toxic trouble in oil tainted waters.

"An animal out there doesn't know that this is crude oil and it is toxic. All it knows is it's something to play with. They tend to want to see something. It's like a child who would put his finger in that little outlet, not knowing what's out there," said Dr. Moby Solangi with IMMS.

For those who may be quick to link dead turtles with the offshore oil slick; a warning.

"I want to stress that each year we have strandings in this area. Whether, regardless of what's happening offshore. So, the presence of sea turtles in this area is not abnormal relative to past years. There's just a lot of focus on these strandings this year because they're on the path or the potential path of the spill area," said Epperly.

Descriptions about the impact of the oil spill have ranged from something just beyond a nuisance to something catastrophic.

WLOX News asked the group if it's possible to accurately characterize the impact at this point. The BP representative said we've been given the "gift of time" with favorable weather.

"As the oil weathers, it changes. And in some ways becomes less dangerous. We don't want it there. We're still after it with every means possible. And still protecting the shore line. But we have gotten a couple of breaks, frankly," said Steve Rinehart.

Dr. Solangi said dolphins which encounter the oil, face serious health issues.

"We take short breaths. These animals take a huge breath at one time and hold it. And when they take it the fumes stay in the lungs for a long period of time and they cause two types of damage, one which is immediate to the tissue itself. Second, the hydro carbons enter the bloodstream," he said.

BP has hired a private contractor to deal with the expected oil-covered birds.

Company spokesman Rinehart said, so far, there's been just one confirmed report of an oil tainted bird. That northern gannet was rescued by a team in Louisiana.

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