Dolphin study shows BP spill will affect Gulf for generations


Over the last five years, a series of scientific studies have clearly documented the enormous consequences of the 2010 BP oil spill on fish and wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico. From the majestic and endangered Kemp’s ridley turtle to the sensitive shrimp and oyster beds, exposure to the more than 4 million barrels that flowed from the worst oil spill in American history, or to the toxic dispersant that was sprayed to make the oil disappear from sight, has been shown again and again to have caused disease, death, low birth rates and other health problems.

No Gulf species has suffered from BP’s negligence more than our majestic dolphins. Just this May, a major study of the elevated rate of dolphin deaths in Barataria Bay, a section that suffered some of the worst crude-oil pollution, showed significant exposure to oil in the lungs and adrenal glands of the deceased sea creatures. This past week, a new study was released that shows the information about the birth rate for the dolphins in that same section of the Gulf is even worse than feared.

Only two of 10 Barataria Bay bottlenose dolphins that were found to be pregnant in 2011, a year after the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion oiled the bay, had successful pregnancies. And the survival rate through July 2015 for adult dolphins that were given health assessments in the bay in 2011 is 10 percent lower than found in two studies of dolphins in un-oiled Sarasota Bay, Fla.

Those are key findings from a study released Tuesday (Nov. 3) by a team of scientists including marine mammal experts with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service and a variety of marine centers and veterinary hospitals around the United States. The report was published in the peer-reviewed Proceedings of the Royal Society in Great Britain.

The results confirm that the Barataria Bay dolphins are decades away from recovery, said Lori Schwacke, lead author on the paper and a wildlife epidemiologist and research statistician with NOAA’s Hollings Research Laboratory in Charleston, S.C.. She has been that agency’s lead investigator for dolphins since the BP disaster.

“Given what we’re seeing now in these animals that were there when the oil spill happened, that were exposed to (BP Deepwater Horizon) oil, it would take several decades for this population to recover to normal,” Schwacke said. “Their health has been impacted, their survival rate is lower and their reproductive rate is lower, and it will take decades for recovery.”

Since the 5-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe back in April, there’s been too little attention paid to the ongoing environmental impacts. The news that BP has agreed to a financial settlement with federal and state governments worth more than $20 billion, including billions of coastline restoration dollars for Louisiana and other Gulf states, certainly has led many folks to assume the worst of the situation is over. But as this new dolphin study — like other scientific research before it — suggests, the environmental impacts of the spill will actually persist for generations to come.

And it’s critical for the public to know this. Despite what has happened in the Gulf, we’ve seen two attempts at offshore drilling in the risky, frigid waters of the Arctic Ocean off Alaska. And it still boggles the mind, but the Obama administration is on the brink of green-lighting a significant expansion of offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, despite knowing that any accident could harm wildlife — not to mention tourism, seafood harvesting and other economic impacts — for decades. How many studies will it take to move our drilling policies in the right direction?

Learn more about the latest dolphin health study from

Learn more about how BP tried to cover up the worst of the BP oil spill in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2015 – All Rights Reserved

Add comment

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

Follow Us

© Stuart H Smith, LLC
Share This