BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - NOAA fisheries Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Program Coordinator Dr. Teri Rowles calls the spike in dolphin deaths, "an unusual mortality event." But she couldn't give a specific reason why the animals were found dead since the BP oil spill. "It will be quite some time," she said, before a cause of death is determined.
Of the 406 dolphins that have washed ashore in the last 14 months, NOAA scientists say just 15 of those marine mammals had oil on them. And only one of those dolphins was found in Mississippi. Thirteen were found in Louisiana, and one in Florida.
The scientists confirmed that eight of those dolphins had oil from the BP spill. One of those dolphins washed ashore just two weeks ago. "Some dolphins have visible oil on them," explained Blair Mase, NOAA Fisheries Southeast Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator. "But the test results haven't been released or completed."
Mase is not ready to link the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the dolphin strandings. "It may not be the cause of death," the coordinator noted.
In the first three months of this year, scientists have seen a spike in dolphin deaths. Mase said 153 dolphins have died in the northern Gulf of Mexico. And 65 of those mammals were very small calves.
Scientists from the NOAA Fisheries Service held a news briefing Thursday afternoon to provide an update on their investigations into why so many dead dolphins washed ashore this winter. If you regularly follow WLOX News and WLOX.com, you know there's been a spike in what are called dolphin strandings since February.
The complexity of these dolphin deaths is what scientists must analyze. They said over the last 14 months, they've seen three different spikes when dolphins died in larger numbers. One of those spikes started in February, when dolphin carcasses started appearing on Mississippi beaches. And even though the number of dolphins and dolphin calves washing ashore seems to be modifying, Mase said, "We are still at an increased level throughout the northern gulf."
NOAA scientists say the national resource damage assessment program will help determine if the Deepwater Horizon contributed to these deaths. "We are evaluating the impact the oil spill may have had on the animals themselves and the habitats in which they live," Dr. Rowles said.
There's also been an increase in sea turtle deaths since March 15. A total of 87 sea turtles have washed ashore in that time, mostly in Mississippi. A large percentage of those turtles are the endangered Kemps Ridley turtle. NOAA Fisheries National Sea Turtle Coordinator Barbara Schroeder said the turtles they've analyzed so far "have no visible oil on them."