New study links BP oil spill with sick dolphins

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A study released on Wednesday points to the BP oil spill as the culprit for causing serious illness and death among dolphins.

Researchers from NOAA published their findings in a scientific journal. They also held a teleconference with reporters in the region, including WLOX News.

The study makes the strongest connection yet between the oil spill and sick or dying dolphins. In 2011, researchers examined 30 live dolphins in Barataria Bay, Louisiana, which was an area with heavy and prolonged oil coverage. What they found were some very sick animals.

The research team captured and studied 30 dolphins in Barataria Bay.

"Many of the Barataria Bay dolphins were underweight. Their blood tests showed abnormalities such as elevated liver enzymes or markers of inflammation," said study co-author, Dr. Lori Schwacke.

Researchers compared these dolphins with a control group in Sarasota Bay, Florida. The oil exposed dolphins in Barataria Bay were five times more likely to have moderate to severe lung disease. Many also had compromised adrenal glands.

"Barataria Bay dolphins had abnormally low levels of some hormones and specifically cordizol and aldostrun, which are hormones produced by the adrenal glands and are critical for an animal's stress response," Dr. Schwacke explained.

So, is the BP oil spill responsible for these ill effects?

"With regards to the effects we report in the paper, I think there's a pretty strong weight of evidence that many of those conditions are linked with exposure from the BP oil spill," said Schwacke.

Remember Chance and Apollo?

"They were in very bad condition.  Almost dead on the beach," said Dr. Moby Solangi, as he watched the two dolphins swimming in a tank.

They're the two dolphins rescued by IMMS after the oil spill. They have recovered and are in good health today.

Dr. Solangi says while this latest study is a good first step, there needs to be much follow-up.

"There needs to be tremendously more. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I really don't think it's enough to make those broad conclusions," he explained.

He says one problem with the Barataria Bay research is the lack of a baseline study; a study of dolphins in that bay before the spill

As for a link between the oil spill and dolphin health, Dr. Solangi had this to say.

"There's got to be. That was the worst environmental disaster. It affected a large area that these animals inhabit. And so there's got to be, certainly, a link. Now how much damage, that's where the real difficulty is going to be," he said.

A spokesman for BP released this statement in response to the study:

"BP has been funding NOAA's work on this subject for over three years and requesting data throughout this period. The agency still has not provided BP with any data demonstrating that the alleged poor health of any dolphins was caused by oil exposure.  Indeed, NOAA has not even provided BP an injury assessment on dolphins or any other species or habitat. In addition, the symptoms that NOAA has observed in this study have been seen in other dolphin mortality events that have been related to contaminants and conditions found in the northern Gulf, such as PCB's, DDT and pesticides, unusual cold stun events, and toxins from harmful algal blooms. The symptoms are also consistent with natural diseases such as Morbillivirus and Brucellosis. As NOAA has itself acknowledged, the Unusual Mortality Event (UME) for dolphins began in February 2010, two months before the Deepwater Horizon accident. In fact, dolphin UME's occur with some regularity in the Gulf of Mexico and around the world and have for years."

Dr. Lori Schwacke told WLOX News that NOAA shared all the findings in the report with BP.

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