Government scientists prove BP is killing dolphins


It’s no secret here on the Gulf Coast that ever since BP’s reckless Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in 2010, dolphins have been getting sick and dying at an alarming rate. I’ve been reporting on this phenomenon since the early months after the spill, and this has been an ongoing, sickening event in the nearly four years that have followed. For example, I noted earlier this year that still in 2013, infant dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico were still dying at a rate roughly six times the average.

The circumstantial evidence that the deaths were a result of the 5 million barrels of oil that were spilled into the Gulf, compounded by the careless use of 2 million gallons of highly toxic dispersant, was overwhelming. But as any good lawyer knows, circumstantial evidence, no matter how strong, is not the same thing as proof. It takes time for scientists to study the sick and dying dolphins and conclusively link their condition to exposure to the oil spill (although arguably not as long as 42 months.) But now that critical work has been done:

The study, led by scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, found lung disease, hormonal abnormalities and other health effects among dolphins in an area heavily oiled during the BP spill.

The diseases found in the dolphins at Barataria Bay in Louisiana – though rare – were consistent with exposure to oil, the scientists said. 

“Many disease conditions observed in Barataria Bay dolphins are uncommon but consistent with petroleum hydrocarbon exposure and toxicity,” the scientists said. 

Half of the dolphins were given a guarded prognosis, and 17% were expected to die of the disease, the researchers found. 

“I’ve never seen such a high prevalence of very sick animals – and with unusual conditions such as the adrenal hormone abnormalities,” Lori Schwake, the study’s lead author, said in a statement.

Even though it probably should have come sooner (the dolphins were examined in 2011), this is still a critical finding. There is much more work to be done — similar research is needed into high rates of sickness and death among sea turtles, sea birds, blue crab, oysters, shrimp, and countless other marine creatures.

This is one of several stories in recent days that have validated many of the points raised by me and other environmentalists in the early days of the spill, including BP’s criminal cover-up of the amount of oil that was leaking and the high risks of deploying so much toxic dispersant. We take no joy in having been right. But we raise these issues because they are still of vital importance. Rather than take responsibility for killing these dolphins and its other unconscionable environmental crimes, BP continues to fight the proper penalities for the pollution it caused, and now the oil giant is even looking to welch on victim claims it had once agreed to pay. And yet again and again comes new proof that the damage that it caused is incalculable.

To learn more from the Guardian about the government research into sick and dying dolphins, please read:

Read my April 15 blog post that describes dolphin deaths and other lingering impacts of the BP oil spill:

From Dec. 19 on the BP coverup:

From Dec. 17, more on the toxicity of the dispersant used on the BP oil spill:

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