Finger Print: Dead Dolphins Have BP’s Oil on Them


NOAA officials have finally come clean, admitting that at least some of the dead dolphins washing ashore on the Gulf Coast are coated in oil from BP’s Macondo well.

Although the disclosure is a step in the right direction, agency officials are quick to caution against assuming the oil killed the marine mammals. That, of course, would be a silly conclusion to jump to. How could 200 million gallons of crude oil and 2 million gallons of toxic dispersant have any sort of adverse effect on the Gulf’s marine life?

The NOAA disclosure is going viral this weekend as local coverage bubbles up to the national level. This is how the “don’t jump to any conclusions” story is playing out, according to a St. Petersburg Times report:

…15 of the 153 dolphins that have washed ashore since Jan. 1 – including one that showed up two weeks ago – were coated in oil. On eight of those, laboratory tests verified that it came from the BP spill that began a year ago this month, federal officials say.

The disclosure of that damning piece of evidence is followed by this from NOAA official Blair Mase: “A year after the oil spill, we are still seeing dolphins washing ashore with evidence of oil on them – but it may not be the cause of death.”

We’ll have to wait for the tissue sample test results, but clearly the walls are closing in on BP and its government supporters at NOAA. We now know that some of the dead dolphins are washing ashore visibly oiled – and we know that in most cases the oil is from BP’s Macondo well. Hmmmmmm.

You can almost hear the deductive master Sherlock Holmes saying: “Elementary, my dear Watson” – or in this case, “my dear Ms. Mase.” But NOAA officials will have nothing to do with reason as they continue to downplay the possibility of a BP connection.

CNN quotes Mase saying: “The Gulf of Mexico is no stranger to unusual mortality events.” And this: “Even though they have oil on them, it may not be the cause of death. We want to look at the gamut of all the possibilities.”

According to the same CNN report, NOAA Fisheries Stranding Program Coordinator Dr. Teri Rowles said: “We did not say that the dolphins have died because of the oil, just that they have come back with oil on them.”

Look, it’s not that Ms. Mase or Dr. Rowles are “wrong” – we can understand that there’s a slim possibility BP’s oil isn’t the cause of death. What I object to is NOAA’s unseemly handling of the situation in a way that stirs suspicion and distrust. Instead of officials simply saying “we’re investigating the possible connection,” they stumble over themselves to defend BP in ways that reveal the agency’s flagrant pro-industry mentality. That type of response casts doubt on the efficacy of the agency’s “confidential” investigation into the record number of dolphin deaths, or as the feds call it, the “unusual mortality event.”

The visible oil on the dolphins is just the strongest evidence we have implicating BP, but there are certainly other ways spills can kill marine mammals. According to an article in Audubon Magazine:

At least some killer whales in Alaska were suspected to have inhaled fumes emitted by spilled Exxon Valdez oil, causing them to lose consciousness and drown. …Inhaled fumes can cause pneumonia, ulcers and liver and kidney failure.

Let’s remember that independent research has proven NOAA wrong on a long well-documented list of issues, including oil-flow rates, how much oil is left in the Gulf, and those massive underwater oil plumes. Unfortunately, there will be little, if any, independent review of the dolphin findings – NOAA has made sure of that. The agency has issued a gag order on its scientists and clamped down on dolphin tissue samples to make sure its confidential work is the final word.

The obvious concern is with NOAA’s credibility. Can we trust the agency to give us the honest answers? I don’t know about you, but I’d feel a lot more comfortable if independent scientists were checking the agency’s work. The lack of transparency is troubling to say the least.

What we know for certain this week is that NOAA admits BP oil is showing up on the dead dolphins that continue to wash ashore. We do not know – but can assume based on recent history – that this is just the tip of a very big, very bad iceberg.

Here’s the St. Pete Times report:

National media powerhouse CNN chimes in on the “unusual mortality event”:

Here’s the the article from Audubon Magazine:

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1 comment

  • Stuart, thank you for your continued excellent heads up on what’s “Really” going in “our” Gulf. Considering the killing and carnage is likely 50 times worse than the stat’s are showing, based only on the number “beached”, I wonder if BP and NOAA have ever even heard of “The Tam’s” or the song we should be singing to them, “What kind of Fool Do You Think I Am”!

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