Gulf mammal deaths likely far higher than body count, scientists say
A NOAA Fisheries Service graphic illustrates the sharp rise in Gulf of Mexico dolphin deaths that began even before the oil spill.
March 31st, 2011
02:43 PM ET

Gulf mammal deaths likely far higher than body count, scientists say

For every dead dolphin or whale that washes up on Gulf Coast beaches, there may be 50 more that no one ever sees, a new study suggests.

Natural factors and last year's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico probably have caused thousands more dolphin and whale deaths than have been observed, a team of scientists says in a study published Wednesday by the journal Conservation Letters.

The scientists, led by Rob Williams, said 101 cetacean, or marine mammal, carcasses had been observed in the water or on beaches as of the time of their study.

After analyzing historical data on populations and death rates of 14 species in the northern Gulf, the scientists determined that carcasses are found in only 2% of cetacean deaths.

"Thus, the true death toll could be 50 times the number of carcasses recovered, given no additional information," they write, adding that they don't know what the true figure is.

The scientists urge environmentalists and authorities not to rely solely on observed carcass counts in judging the severity of an event, but to develop standard formulas for more accurate estimates.

Scientists and observers have been alarmed by the high number of dead baby and preterm dolphins that washed ashore in February during the first calving season since the spill.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service counted 36 infant dolphin strandings in February; there was just one in February 2010, and the 2002-2007 average for February is 2.2. Stranding is the scientific term for marine mammals that end up on land.

NOAA had noticed a rise in cetacean deaths even before the spill which resulted from an April 20 explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 workers.

"We have been monitoring an increase of dolphin deaths in the northern Gulf since February of 2010," NOAA Fisheries spokeswoman Karrie Carnes said.

The numbers of stranded (dead or alive) dolphins and whales are shocking: Against a 2002-07 average of 31.4 for January through March, there were 76 for that period in 2010 and 139 in 2011, according to NOAA.

Scientists aren't jumping to conclusions about what's killing the animals. Similar "unusual mortality events" occur from time to time; the Gulf has seen 13 of them since 1991, said Blair Mase, NOAA's lead marine mammal stranding coordinator. Marine mammals are particularly susceptible to harmful algal blooms, infectious diseases, temperature and environmental changes, and human impact, she said.

"Frankly, it's just too early to tell at this point," Mase said in February. "It's obviously on everyone's radar screen. Everyone's concerned about any impact of the BP oil spill, but we have to be very cautious as to identify any particular cause. We won't know until we have these samples analyzed and be able to identify the source."

soundoff (117 Responses)
  1. faker

    Where are you raven

    April 1, 2011 at 9:38 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Gbagbo

    Shut up faker

    April 1, 2011 at 10:15 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. JAZZ

    Were did you all go? Dont stop I need some distraction.

    April 1, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Gbagbo

    Hey real faker fukk off

    April 1, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. faker

    I am the true faker of 1:00 and 1:42. I humiliate people. That's what I do now. You all will pay. Don't toy with me or my name.

    April 1, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. david

    Fake off b-t-h. And fake you all you mother fakers.

    April 1, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. JAZZ

    I really have to pay all you guys for this performance. Where do I send my check at FAKERS R US , hehe

    April 2, 2011 at 9:44 am | Report abuse | Reply
  8. kim

    Of course the oil is killing the marine life let me dump tons of oil in your home see if thing remain the same.

    April 2, 2011 at 10:44 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Kat

    This is a tragic situation with the marine life and most of you are making idiotic comments which have no bearing on this subject. Go away and play on FaceBook. And I believe there are many sites gay people can visit–but not here.

    April 6, 2011 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. jussme

    Really? scientists do not know why the toxic oil is killing the dolphins and various other sea life? and though it is being "closely monitored because of ongoing case" they have only been keeping records of the turtles since Feb and it has been going on since Jan? I'm not a scientist, so dont pay me for this theory- the mothers eat and swim in the toxic environment, so even if the babies only drink mothers milk, they are still poisoned and swimming in toxins.Even if they never leave the mothers womb, they are still nurished on toxins. They will probably die. Too bad we arent as dumb as the ppl on the hill keep telling each other we are or we would all be as befuddled as they are!...course, then we would all think we were rich and toxic pools were playgrounds, so, maybe that would be nice....Sorry, but they know there is a link between the turtles and the dolphins. they dont want to jump to conclusions because they are being payed not to

    April 10, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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