Gulf Oil Spill Had Serious Effect On Dolphins, Causing Deadly Lung Disease
Dolphins off the coast of Louisiana have been diagnosed with rare lung diseases that government scientists say is directly caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. BP, whose oil rig caused the spill, funded the study but vigorously disputes it. The research was published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Technology.
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"It is related to oil," Lori Schwacke, the study's lead author, told the Wall Street Journal. Schwacke and her team are wildlife epidemiologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. "The weight of evidence is there." The evidence consists of 29 sick dolphins out of 32 sampled in Louisiana's Barataria Bay, a region that was heavily slopped with oil. By contrast, dolphins screened near Sarasota, Fla., which didn't receive oil, were found to be largely healthy.
"I've never seen such a high prevalence of very sick animals — and with unusual conditions such as the adrenal hormone abnormalities," Schwacke said in a NOAA news release. Other dolphins had lung damage. All of the sick dolphins' illnesses are associated with exposure to petroleum hydrocarbons, the researchers said. Five of the dolphins are likely to die from their lung diseases.
NOAA said the researchers considered an array of other possible explanations, including a range of other chemicals. "Blubber samples from the Barataria Bay dolphins, however, showed relatively low concentrations for the broad suite of chemicals measured, including PCBs and commonly detected persistent pesticides, as compared to other coastal dolphin populations," the agency said.
BP paid for the study but did not take part in the analysis of the findings, the Wall Street Journal reported. Scientists for the England-based oil company disputed the conclusions of the research. "The symptoms that NOAA has observed in this study have been seen in other dolphin mortality events that have been related to contaminants and conditions found in the northern Gulf, such as PCBs, DDT and pesticides, unusual cold stun events, and toxins from harmful algal blooms," BP spokesman Jason Ryan told the newspaper.
The study was the first solid evidence linking oil to disease in Gulf of Mexico dolphins. But previously, NOAA and the National Wildlife Federation have documented the toll on animals, concluding that dolphins had been the hardest hit by the spill, according to Discovery News. Earlier this year, the National Wildlife Foundation reported that the oil spill caused: dolphins to die in above-average numbers each month, sea turtles to be stranded at 3.5 times the normal rate and the growth of coral reefs to be stunted. "Despite the public relations blitz by BP, this spill is not over," said David Muth, of the National Wildlife Foundation.
Above photo courtesy of Shutterstock
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