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. Mohamad

    Come on Cesar, leave the poor troll alone. He's probably with his make believe inflatable girlfriend right now LMAO

    April 1, 2011 at 1:44 am | Report abuse |
  2. david

    Hey look. The troll speaks

    April 1, 2011 at 1:46 am | Report abuse |
  3. Patty

    Thanks to Faker for sticking it to the blog hogs.

    April 1, 2011 at 1:48 am | Report abuse |
  4. herbert

    Poor guy. You gotta feel sorry for the troll. Probably took a break from his inflatable mother doll. I think she faked it. That's why he's finished with her lol

    April 1, 2011 at 1:50 am | Report abuse |
  5. Lenny

    Hey guys. You know why they call him the faker? Cause to fool his wife into thinking he is finished, he fakes it. Lmao

    April 1, 2011 at 1:55 am | Report abuse |
  6. Lenny

    Hey! Hey. I got a good one. What does Faker and his wife use for birth control? Huh? Huh? A picture of Patty's face! Haaa

    April 1, 2011 at 1:57 am | Report abuse |
  7. Jazz

    I don't think there is a picture of Patty anywhere in the world. No camera is brave enough to take a snap shot. Lmao

    April 1, 2011 at 2:00 am | Report abuse |
  8. Philip

    So where did faker go anyway?

    April 1, 2011 at 2:02 am | Report abuse |
  9. Mohamad

    He went to buy a new inflatable doll. The one he had sprung an air leak.

    April 1, 2011 at 2:05 am | Report abuse |
  10. raven

    If you had nothing to apologise for,then why DID you ? Like I said, it was just a se gue and an excuse to show how clever you THINK you are. Youre self-importance must know no bounds. Bet youre a real joy at a party . If youre so proud of yourself why not say who you really are ?

    April 1, 2011 at 2:08 am | Report abuse |
  11. raven

    If you had nothing to apologise for,then why DID you ? Like I said, it was just a se gue and an excuse to show how clever you THINK you are.Your self-importance must know no bounds. Bet youre a real joy at a party . If youre so proud of yourself why not say who you really are ?

    April 1, 2011 at 2:10 am | Report abuse |
  12. david

    Ahhh poor baby. Faker probably doesn't have a good life so he uses other people's names. Let's forgive him guys. He's easy to spot anyway. A dork like that just isn't very bright.

    April 1, 2011 at 2:12 am | Report abuse |
  13. raven

    Sorry you guys. For the double post and the arguing . I know its not real life and its silly but for some reason this really hurt my feelings .dunno why .

    April 1, 2011 at 2:13 am | Report abuse |
  14. david

    Come on raven, the guy's a loser. Like that Jacob and Gary, most posters can spot fakes. Why give this idiot importance when he is so worthless, arrogant, and so full of himself.

    April 1, 2011 at 2:18 am | Report abuse |
  15. Lenny

    Good night Faker. See you tomorrow. Have fun impersonating us plus the rest who don't meet your standards.

    April 1, 2011 at 2:23 am | Report abuse |
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