Secrecy Surrounding Dolphin Deaths


With the dolphin death toll pushing 70 confirmed fatalities – more than half of them calves (or babies) – the most obvious place to seek answers is the testing conducted on the 89 dead dolphins that washed ashore last year, most of them adults that died in the BP spill.

Easier said than done. If you think NOAA and BP will make that information public any time soon, you haven’t been paying attention. Sure, government officials admit that the 89 dolphins “died from something environmental during the last year,” but won’t say what that “something” is and won’t release test results, according to a Reuters report.

The secrecy, along with the widespread feeling that NOAA has replaced FEMA as representing a totally dismissive federal attitude toward the Gulf, has some commentators getting increasingly anxious and concerned (and rightly so). For example, Dr. Ed Cake, the marine biologist and president of Gulf Environmental Associates in Ocean Springs, Miss., says that we may need an independent analysis.

“If they [NOAA and its contractors] can’t or won’t provide data in a timely and appropriate manner, then some other organization should be authorized to conduct independent verification studies and tissue analysis,” said Dr. Cake. “And if you want to see more obfuscation and data withholding, wait until NOAA and [its contractors] take over the investigation of the ‘Unusual Mortality Event’ involving neonatal dolphins that is now occurring in the ‘Gulf of Oil’ region.”

The clear implication of these deaths is that something is very wrong with the entire food chain, and there’s a threat to human health.

Moby Solangi, director of the private Institute of Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Miss., confirms this when he says to Reuters that “…when we see something strange like this happen to a large group of dolphins, which are at the top of the food chain, it tells us the rest of the food chain is affected.”

A National Public Radio (NPR) story echoes that troubling concept, reporting that “…experts say since dolphins are at the top of the food chain, they reflect what has happened to their environment.”

While government agencies continue to downplay the likely oil spill involvement, NPR outlines one reason the situation is so alarming: “Dolphins have an 11 or 12-month gestation period. These dead baby dolphins were conceived just before the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig leased by BP blew up…”

“So, these animals were undergoing development during the height of the oil spill,” Teri Rowles, a top marine mammal scientist for NOAA tells NPR, indicating once again why NOAA tries so hard to keep its actual scientists away from the media – they just can’t seem to stay on the pro-BP talking points.

NPR also spoke with veterinary pathologist Greg Bossart, a dolphin expert at the Georgia Aquarium, who tells it like it is: “When those [biological] interactions become unbalanced from the oil, then you’re prone to seeing new diseases emerge, predator-prey relationships change, temperatures change, [and] chemistry of the ocean change. All those indirectly affect the health of organisms… what we do know is that dolphins can be very good sentinels for what’s happening in our oceans and even what’s happening in our bodies.”

Still think Gulf seafood is safe? Still comfortable that NOAA, the agency that won’t disclose what killed those dolphins last year, is calling the shots on seafood safety? Soon, the agency and other federal officials will face the questions no administration wants to answer: What did you know, and when did you know it?

Here’s the Reuters report:

Here’s the NPR report, the comments linking to human health implications are near the end:

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  • there is a good chance they are not releasing info because of the economy – its too explosive information, but to the best of my knowledge the people consuming seafood from the afflicted region will experience up to 800% increase in offspring born with handicaps or stillborn. Here we are talking roughly 1/3-1/4th of the us population. i have a blog on the matter at and you are most welcome to ask then i will mail you the studies done in scandinavia why this is so – its an outright lie that theres no conclusive evidence nor scientific studies proving what happens (accumulative damage) when you eat that seafood

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