GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - There's been another spike in dolphin deaths this year in Mississippi. And the vast majority of strandings have been baby dolphins. Scientists are still busy tracking dolphin mortalities and searching for answers.
They are beautiful, seemingly friendly creatures. Healthy dolphins live at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport. But while IMMS cares for live animals, it also investigates dolphin deaths: 30 so far this year in Mississippi. And 22 of them, nearly 75 percent, were babies.
"It's kind of strange. It's reminiscent of 2011, a year after the oil spill we saw a tremendous increase in baby dolphins. About 60 to 70 percent that were found dead in 2011 were babies," said IMMS Director Dr. Moby Solangi.
IMMS plays a critical role in investigating the dolphin deaths in Mississippi.
"We are the front lines. We collect the samples. We do the necropses. We take the tissue, and we send those samples off to federal laboratories for analysis," said Dr. Solangi.
Remember Chance? That's the dolphin which was found barely alive in November of 2011. He's been nursed back to health at IMMS.
Chance seems an appropriate name for the dolphin that's making his recovery there. Not only did he get a second chance at life at IMMS, but there's also a good chance a careful study of his health may give some valuable clues in providing a link between the BP oil spill and dolphin mortalities.
"They serve as a "black box" so to speak, to determine what may have been going on in their past life. You get good information from dead animals, but you get much more from live animals," Dr. Solangi explained.
IMMS scientists can't discuss any findings about a possible link between the oil spill and dolphin deaths because of the pending litigation over the oil spill crisis.
Dr. Solangi says the IMMS is also involved in several studies about live dolphins in the wild. The studies involve looking at dolphin populations in the gulf, migration patterns and habitat.
Craig Savage, the Director of Media and Communications for Gulf Coast Restoration Organization/BP America, released the following statement Tuesday in response to our story:
"Since May 2010, BP has been working with federal and state agencies to study the potential impact of the Deepwater Horizon accident on marine mammals and other wildlife, including dolphins. The studies are ongoing and preliminary data are still being analyzed in order to better understand potential effects on wildlife.
No company has done more, faster to respond to an industrial accident than BP did in response to the Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010. As a result of our $14 billion clean up effort, BP funded early restoration projects as well as natural recovery processes, the Gulf is returning to its baseline condition – the condition it would be in if the accident had not occurred."