More Transparency Woes: NOAA Initiates Gag Order on Dead Dolphin Investigation


Here’s proof that the folks at NOAA actually can learn from their mistakes: Burned time and again by independent researchers disproving the agency’s “findings” (e.g., lowball oil-flow estimates, no underwater oil plumes, “vast majority of oil gone”), officials have decided to ban any independent research on the dozens of dead dolphins that have recently washed ashore on the Gulf Coast. And for good measure, agency officials added a gag order on everyone working on the dolphin case.

Reuters, which has taken a leading role in reporting the coverup, notes that the tight lid on information is “…causing tension with some independent marine scientists.” Well, no kidding.

Reuters also reports that the “…gag order was contained in an agency letter informing outside scientists that its review of the dolphin die-off, classified as an ‘unusual mortality event (UME),’ had been folded into a federal criminal investigation launched last summer into the oil spill.” And then the news agency quotes directly from a letter it obtained: “…because of the seriousness of the legal case, no data or findings may be released, presented, or discussed outside the UME investigative team without prior approval.”

“It throws accountability right out the window,” one biologist says in the Reuters story. Some question why the Marine Fisheries Service, a branch of NOAA, has taken so long to get samples to laboratories for testing. From the Reuters report: “It is surprising that it has been almost a full year since the spill, and they still haven’t selected labs for this kind of work,” said Ruth Carmichael, who studies marine mammals at the independent Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama.

Obviously, there is no sense of urgency on the part of the government to get to the truth on this. The case goes to the Marine Fisheries Services – a branch of NOAA with leadership issues of its own tied not only to capturing marine animals for entertainment purposes but also for connections to the controversial use of dolphins by the U.S. military.

We know there were at least 200 dolphin deaths this year, and about 90 others last year during the spill. Those numbers are much higher than what we normally see in a year on the Gulf. As for NOAA conducting “an investigation” into the dolphin deaths, that’s a joke – a complete farce. The agency has squandered its credibility over the last 10 months. There is nothing left for the public to trust. And for all intents and purposes, federal officials have already absolved their friends at BP of responsibility, although they did try to backtrack a bit when everyone laughed.

The early disclaimers coming out of the federal government have centered on the (false) claim that an “exact” cause of death cannot be determined, which is to say that we’ll never be able to hold BP accountable. Again, total nonsense from a scientific perspective. You can, in fact, determine causation in this matter. But first, you have to want to.

The best thing about the gag order is that maybe, just maybe, it will make the “more transparency” Obama Administration such a laughingstock that real change is made. Otherwise, the outrages will just continue.

Here’s the Reuters report via HuffPo:

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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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