BP’s Oil Spill May Have Killed More than 5,000 Dolphins and NOAA Confirms Sea Turtle Deaths Also on the Rise


We all knew more dolphins died than the 101 carcasses that have washed ashore on the Gulf Coast, but a new study estimates that it could be 50 times as many – which translates to more than 5,000 dead. That’s a tough number to get your head around – and combined with new reports of soaring sea turtle deaths – the situation is putting serious pressure on the government to figure out the cause.

But, sadly, don’t hold your breath. The federal government continues to not only drag its feet on the matter, but NOAA has gone the extra mile and re-classified the dolphin deaths to the more PR-friendly designation of “stranded.” We should note that NOAA officials engage in this type of damage control while they have yet to select a lab to test the samples that might officially link the dolphin deaths to the BP spill. NOAA officials have been told that they will need to test the carcasses and send the samples to a lab of their choice. It would appear the agency is not at all anxious to determine a cause of death.

The French newswire service AFP quotes a researcher from the University of British Columbia pointing out why U.S. officials keep saying the spill was not all that bad: “…this is because reports have implied that the number of carcasses recovered, 101 (as of November 2010), equals the number of animals killed by the spill.”

Looking at other studies, including a handful conducted after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, researchers came up with a formula that suggests up to 50 times more sea mammals die than are found, or recovered, on the beach.

Meanwhile, NOAA has increased its figures for what it is calling a “cetacean unusual mortality event” to 390 “strandings” – 96 percent were “stranded” dead and 4 percent alive. You do the math on that one. Those numbers tie into an MSNBC report that there’s been a “spike” in sea turtle deaths.

Since March 15, there have been 46 reported sea turtle deaths, and once again NOAA is promising rigorous testing to figure out what happened. But at this point, few people, including myself, are reassured.

Even the MSNBC report noted that “…the news comes as the mystery behind the dolphin deaths grew to include a sense of intrigue: NOAA is keeping a tight lid on its ongoing probe into the deaths, which are possibly connected to the BP spill, causing tension with some independent scientists…in the case of dolphins, biologists hired by the National Marine Fisheries Service, a branch of NOAA, to collect specimens and tissue samples were quietly told late last month to keep their findings confidential.”

So dead marine animals continue to be recovered at an alarmingly high rate. The federal agency in charge of the investigation, NOAA, has secured the evidence and ordered everyone to shut the hell up – including independent researchers who truly represent our last shot at finding out what really happened here. And as I’ve said before, common sense dictates that the deaths of both the dolphins and the sea turtles should be presumed to have a causal link to the spill unless proven otherwise. It’s absurd to discount the impact of 200 million gallons of oil and 2 million gallons of chemical dispersant on the Gulf’s marine life.

The French report via Yahoo is here: http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20110330/sc_afp/usoilpollutionenvironmentanimaldolphin_20110330052938

The MSNBC report is here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42322119/ns/us_news-environment/

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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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