GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A new study of dolphin deaths makes a strong case for linking them to the BP oil spill. But the director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies says, not so fast.
The study released by NOAA on Wednesday is part of an ongoing investigation into the record number of dolphin deaths since the spill. It links adrenal gland problems and lung lesions on the animals, with petroleum product exposure. But Dr. Moby Solangi finds reasons to question those findings.
The study examined dolphins which died in Barataria Bay, Louisiana, a body of water which saw significant oil intrusion from Deepwater Horizon.
"Our job was to conduct the necropsies, collect the tissue samples and send them off. We are happy to participate," said Dr. Solangi.
One problem he has with the findings is the control group scientists used.
"They used the Florida dolphins as the control, which I think scientifically would be difficult. When you do a control study you have to have the animals in the same area, one exposed and one not, to be able to have conclusive results," he said.
Another issue involves the timeline. What's missing, says Dr. Solangi, is pre-spill information.
"The big question is, we do not have pre-spill data. We cannot compare changes today versus what might have been three or four years prior to the oil spill. That's number one."
There are other factors that raise questions. Could the spike in reported dolphin deaths be at least partly to blame on the sheer number of people, such as oil spill clean-up crews, scouring the shorelines?
"Certainly the number of people and number of areas where people were looking in for these animals has increased the numbers. So the level of effort was higher after the oil spill than prior to the oil spill," said Dr. Solangi.
While Dr. Solangi says certainly the oil spill was a contributing factor to the health of dolphins, other factors must also be a part of that equation.
"Cold temperature. The dead zone. Oil spill. Certainly all these are factors and we have to do a lot more to conclusively connect the dots."
These latest findings support those of a 2011 health assessment of live dolphins in Barataria Bay, Louisiana. And that location itself raises some concerns about the study. Dr. Solangi says Barataria Bay has been historically polluted, even before the oil spill.