Dolphin die-off in the Gulf is ignored by U.S. media, which pushes happy talk of “recovery” instead


In the U.S. media this week, I read more happy talk about “the comeback” of the Gulf Coast, at least in the casino-drenched city of Biloxi.

I had to turn to the Canadian media to read about the ongoing mystery of the dead dolphins.

Typical, huh?

Of course, the “comeback” of Biloxi — battered first by Hurricane Katrina and then by the BP oil spill — is dripping with qualifiers and asterisks, if you read between the lines. Here’s the good news as reported by the arbiter of good news in America, USA Today:

Today, a glimmering Frank Gehry-designed art museum stands where storm debris once piled up. Gamblers crowd the tables at the Hard Rock and IP casinos. Highway 90, the waterfront artery once littered with splintered homes and upended barges, is sprouting restaurants and rebuilt homes. And this month, Jimmy Buffett ushered in the grand opening of his $62 million Margaritaville Casino & Restaurant on the east side of town with a live concert.

About 4 million visitors came to the city last year, still down from the more than 8 million that visited pre-Katrina but significantly higher than the years immediately after the storm, according to city figures. Last year, the city scored $20 million from casino revenue, a sign that the casinos – which make up nearly half of the city’s budget – are rebounding.

It’s all relative, isn’t it? First of all, it’s barely a 50 percent comeback, and the story notes — as is fairly common with all these gambling-powered comebacks — the poorest neighborhoods have been left behind. The more powerful issue, though, is that Biloxi’s tourism used to rooted in the natural splendor of its beaches. No more. Today, Gulf Coast tourism centers on folks spending their money indoors, in smoke-filled windowless gambling emporiums. Maybe that’s because we’ve already rolled the dice on the Gulf’s environment, and it came up snake eyes.

First of all, evidence is mounting that shrimping in the Gulf — once a lynchpin of the economy — has been decimated since the BP spill. Here’s the latest:

DELCAMBRE, LA (KTRK) — Two years after the BP oil spill, shrimpers in the Gulf of Mexico say things have changed for the worse. Some say they’re hesitant to take settlement money from BP because the catch has been so bad the last two years, and they’re not sure when it will get better.

From the docks of Chalmette to the quiet waters of Delcambre in Louisiana, business is slow.

“It’s been bad two years in a row,” Delcambre shrimper Jimmie Dupre said. That business is shrimp, and the shrimpers say they’ve never seen anything like 2011 and 2012.

Of course, some experts are going to weigh in and say more evidence is needed before these problems can be conclusively blamed on the Deepwater Horizon disaster. And I agree that the Gulf needs more research, and better research. But after a while, as these negative stories pile up, it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that BP’s recklessness has wreaked major, long-term havoc upon the fragile environment of the Gulf. I’m not sure what’s more alarming about this next story — the seriousness of the problem, the lackadaisical manner it’s being handled by the federal government, or the fact that I had to read this from a Toronto newspaper:

From February 2010 to June 17 there have been 757 [documented] dolphin and whale strandings in the northern Gulf of Mexico, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  Five per cent of the mammals stranded alive, while 95 per cent stranded dead, the federal agency reports.
Although the strandings have occurred over a period of more than two years, scientists are treating them as one event.
“This is one of our longest … mortality events that we have ever dealt with,” says Blair Mase, NOAA’s Southeast Regional Marine Mammal Stranding Co-ordinator, “and it is still ongoing.”
The strandings span the northern Gulf, including the Louisiana/Texas border, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle.
Under NOAA’s Marine Mammal Protection Act, an “unusual mortality event” [UME] — when a stranding occurs unexpectedly and involves a significant die-off — has been declared.

This should be what our current vice president would call a “BFD.” The article goes on to note that “NOAA’s preliminary findings of the deceased animals include poor body condition, teeth discoloration, and lung infections.  A blackish-grey, mud-like substance was found in the stomachs of four of the animals.”

I don’t think you need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that the most massive oil spill in American history may have something to do with this. Yet NOAA — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, tasked with this investigation — continues to drag its feet on completing its probe or reaching its conclusions, which could be devastating news for BP. The biggest “mystery” surrounding the dolphin die-off is whether the federal investigators are just underfunded, incompetent, or in the tank for Big Oil.

No matter what you read, the Gulf comeback won’t be in full bloom until the fishermen are pulling in shrimp, until dead dolphins aren’t washing ashore, and until tourists are coming back to enjoy the once-pristine beaches, and not just rolling the dice at the craps table. And that’s the truth of what’s happening down here, regardless of what you read in the American media, or see in those ridiculous BP toruism ads. If you want to know what’s really going on, watch this “commercial” instead.

To read the USA Today report on the Biloxi economy, go to:

To learn more about the woes of shrimpers in the Gulf, please read:

To see the Toronto Star article about the extreme dolphin die-off, go to:–what-is-killing-dolphins-in-the-gulf-of-mexico

The parody of the BP commercial is here:

© Smith Stag, LLC 2012 – All Rights Reserved


  • Thanks for this honest updated information. My heart ached when the spill was occurring and it continues to be disheartening. If there is anything I can do as one small individual please let me know.


Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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