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Dolphin Calves Strand - Press Coverage
Date Source Article
May 26, 2011 Dolphin deaths investigation taking too long
May 4, 2011 State working to understand turtle deaths
April 20, 2011 Gulf wildlife recovering one year after BP oil spill
April 20, 2011 A Look at Gulf Wildlife One Year Later
Wildlife Recovering from oil spill?
Oil: Out of sight out of mind?
April 20, 2011 Gulf wildlife, a year after oil spill
April 20, 2011 Dolphin expert still not ready to blame oil for deaths
April 18, 2011 A year after the BP oil spill, damage still adding up
April 16, 2011 Federal practices hamper study of Gulf dolphin deaths
April 15, 2011 A year on, Gulf still grapples with BP oil spill
April 6, 2011 NOAA investigates dead dolphins
March 25, 2011 Gulf sea turtle deaths up, joining dolphin trend
March 24, 2011 Dolphin samples leaving Coast
March 18, 2011 Another baby dolphin washes ashore in Biloxi
March 18, 2011 Dolphin tissue testing yet to begin
March 18, 2011 More dead dolphins have scientists looking for answers
March 18, 2011 9 dead dolphins found since Saturday in Alabama and Mississippi
March 17, 2011 Officials sure early dolphins were stillborn
March 8, 2011 WKRG Mobile Could Cold Temps be to blame for dolphin deaths?
March 8, 2011 Cold water influx in Gulf may have delivered fatal blow to dead dolphins
March 4, 2011 Infant dolphin deaths still on rise
March 4, 2011 Scientists debate cause of dolphin deaths
March 3, 2011 Cold water flowing into Gulf may have killed baby dolphins, say scientists
March 2, 2011 Dolphin-baby die-off in Gulf puzzles scientists
March 1, 2011 Baby Dolphin deaths focused on Coast
March 1, 2011 Dolphin Deaths Higher in Mississippi, Alabama
March 1, 2011 Two more dolphins reported today; one a calf
March 1, 2011 The Independent Oil Spill link suspected as dead dolphins wash ashore
March 1, 2011 Dolphin deaths in Alabama, Mississippi, may be caused by measles related illness
February 28, 2011 Experts call dolphins our "Canary in a Coal Mine"
February 28, 2011 Geraldo At Large What's killing baby dolphins in Gulf?
February 28, 2011 Dozens of Dead dolphins washing up on shores of Gulf Coast
February 26, 2011 Gulf dolphins dying
February 26, 2011 Researchers carry a heavy load with dolphin deaths
February 26, 2011 On Gulf beaches, 5 more dead dolphins discovered, officicals say
February 25, 2011 HLN Why are dozens of baby dolphins dying?
February 25, 2011 Surge in dolphin deaths sparks concern in Gulf
February 25, 2011 NPR Gulf spill investigated as a cause of dolphin deaths
February 25, 2011 Infant and stillborn dolphins still washing up along Gulf Coast
February 25, 2011 Scientists try to explain rash of baby dolphin deaths in Gulf
February 25, 2011 Dolphin deaths in Mississippi, Alabama part of a 'mortality event,' say scientists
February 24, 2011 2 more dead dolphins found on Mississippi Alabama beaches
February 24, 2011 Deaths of baby dolphins worry scientists
February 24, 2011 Dead dolphin calves found in Mississippi, Alabama
February 24, 2011 Scientists scrutinize rise in baby dolphin deaths
February 24, 2011 Scientists investigating dolphin deaths in Gulf say BP oil spill is possible cause
February 24, 2011 Federal agency joins dolphin death investigation
February 24, 2011 Baby dolphin deaths get feds' attention
February 23, 2011 Hattiesburg American USM professor: Variety of factors possible in baby dolphin deaths
February 23, 2011 Dolphin deaths to get government's highest scrutiny
February 23, 2011 WGNO ABC26 Scientists Race Against Clock Investigating Dead dolphins
February 23, 2011 AFP Baby dolphins dying along oil-soaked US coast
February 23, 2011 Dead dolphins in Gulf: Scientists seek explanation
February 23, 2011 Trying to find out what is going on here
February 23, 2011 Mirror.co.uk Dozens of baby dolphins wash up dead in latest bizarre mass animal deaths
February 22, 2011 Times Square Chronicles Are dolphins the next endangered species
February 22, 2011 4 dead baby dolphins found on horn island
February 22, 2011 Biologists report dead dolphin young washing up on Alabama, Mississippi coasts
February 22, 2011 21 dead dolphins found along Gulf Coast
February 22, 2011 Baby dolphin deaths puzzling
February 22, 2011 Baby dolphin deaths rise along the Gulf Coast
February 21, 2011 Baby dolphin deaths spike on Gulf Coast
Dolphin Deaths Investigation Taking to Long
Fox 8 News Video by Bigad Shaban May 26, 2011

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State Working to Understand Turtle Deaths
SunHerald Article by Karen Nelson May 4, 2011

GULFPORT -- One young endangered turtle -- rescued from the oil spill last summer and released -- has returned to the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, thin and with little fight left in him.

He was hooked Saturday at a pier in Waveland, trying to eat off a fishing line.

He had also lost the satellite-tracking device attached to his shell, but not before he sent back valuable information.

His travels since November, when he was released, are helping sea-turtle experts try to sort out what’s happening with turtles in the Gulf since the BP spill.

NOAA is now calling April’s increase in deaths on Mississippi shores “cause for concern.”

Crush was one of six young Kemp’s Ridleys rescued and rehabilitated after the spill. They are the most endangered sea turtle in the Gulf -- the only place in the world where they can be found.

“What happens in the Gulf is critical to the survival of the species. They have no place to fall back on,” said Chris Princetich, an environmental toxicologist with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project in California and the Gulf.

He includes the IMMS work on his project’s website with other turtle tracking in the Gulf. He said the tracking IMMS is doing with Kemp’s Ridleys is important.

“Sea-turtle science has a long way to go,” he said. “There’s a lot we don’t know, and tracking is essential to conservation.”

Before satellites, researchers tracked turtles by reports from fishermen who caught them. And he said it has been a struggle to keep focus and work on sea turtles moving forward in the wake of the oil spill.

The federal government’s draft plan for the Kemp’s Ridley was coming out about the time the massive spill hit, he said.

Crush and the others

The pier where Crush was hooked is the same Waveland pier where he was hooked in August. He underwent surgery at IMMS to remove two hooks, healed, was fitted with a tracker and released near Ship Island in November with the other five -- all about 2 to 3 years old, too young to determine their gender without a hormone test. Kemp’s Ridleys can live to be 60.

All six took off for warmer water, said Moby Solangi, IMMS director, who put together $30,000 in state grants and private funding to track the Mississippi six.

In the five months since their release, they have traveled thousands of miles. Crush alone put in 1,575, though his flippers are only about a foot long.

“It’s a phenomenal distance covered,” Solangi said.

One of the six died and one lost his tracking device early. Crush returned without his device, but he had it until April 24.

What they have demonstrated, Solangi said, is significant.

“For the first time ever, we now know their habitat and range,” Solangi said.

The map of their travels shows they roamed all through the northern, western and central Gulf -- from Dauphin Island, Ala., to Grand Isle, La.

Solangi said they first moved to the deeper Gulf where the water was warmer and then, to his satisfaction, returned to the Mississippi Sound this spring after the water warmed.

“It shows they’re using this habitat seasonally,” he said.

All but the one that lost his tracking device early were recorded returning to Mississippi inshore waters.

“That means this area is home,” he said. And Solangi’s betting the six turtles the IMMS released in Florida in April will try to come home, too.

The only problem with “home” right now is the range these turtles traveled was some of area hardest-hit by oil.

Recent deaths

In April, 183 Kemp’s Ridleys washed ashore dead in Mississippi and Alabama, mostly in Mississippi. The IMMS also brought in seven alive, including Crush.

In the one month, there were more dead Kemp’s Ridleys found in the northern Gulf than any other April since 1986 for Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, Princetich said.

“We have a lot of theories,” he said.

“A lead one is that they were all a little bit poisoned and couldn’t make the normal trip through a shrimp trawler. One boat, in one day, can kill a lot of turtles. Normally a turtle can hold its breath for longer than 30 minutes, giving it time to get out of a shrimp net.

He said it has been proven oil inhibits turtles’ ability to hold oxygen in their blood.

“In a net, every second counts,” he said. In the deaths since the spill, “most continue to point to shrimp trawls. But we know the oil is not off the hook yet.”

By Karen Nelson

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Gulf Wildlife Recovering One Year After BP Oil Spill
CBS Early Show Video by Debbye Turner Bell April 20, 2011

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Gulf Wildlife, A Year After Oil Spill
ABC News Video by Matt Gutman April 20, 2011

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A Year After The BP Oil Spill, Damage Still Adding Up
NBC Nightly News Video by Anne Thompson April 18, 2011

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Federal Practices Hamper Study of Gulf Dolphin Deaths
Reuters Article by Leigh Coleman April 16, 2011

(Reuters) - A federal agency's practice of returning weakened dolphins to deeper Gulf of Mexico waters is thwarting efforts to probe dolphin deaths after last year's BP oil spill, scientists said on Saturday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, meanwhile, confirmed that two dolphins stranded in low tide on the Louisiana coastline were returned to water deep enough for them to swim away.

"These animals had no signs of external oil and were deemed healthy and robust," NOAA spokeswoman Kim Amendola said, adding that beach releases are a viable option in some circumstances.

"The animals were pushed to deeper water by our stranding network partner, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and swam off on their own," Amendola said.

Researchers said weakened and stranded dolphins should instead be rescued and tested.

Moby Solangi, director for the Institute of Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi, said returning the dolphins to deeper waters also was undermining efforts to determine who is responsible for the rash of sea animal deaths in Gulf waters.

"We are not able to conduct necropsies on these animals any more either," Solangi said. "This is all because of the BP criminal investigation."

The U.S. Justice Department is using dolphin testing in its investigations into the 2010 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which killed 11 workers and unleashed a torrent of oil that fouled the shorelines of four states.

"I know that everyone thinks they are doing their best but we must have answers and help every marine animal we can," Solangi said.

Fifteen of the 406 dolphins that have washed ashore in the last 14 months had oil on their bodies, the oceanographic administration has said.

Deepwater Horizon oil was confirmed to be on six bottlenose dolphins, one had an unknown oil and two have not been tested.

Meanwhile, wildlife biologists contracted by the National Marine Fisheries Service to document spikes in dolphin mortality and to collect specimens and tissue samples for the NOAA were quietly ordered in late February to keep their findings confidential.

"Scientists try to get to the truth of the matter when the government is worried about political ramifications," said Dr. Mark Peterson of the College of Marine Sciences at the University of Southern Mississippi.

"It would be a good idea to test a stranded dolphin, but I guess someone has to worry about the cost of taking the animal to a rehabilitation facility," Peterson said.

NOAA declared "an unusual mortality event," ongoing since last February, after a spike in the number of dead dolphins washing up in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

There have been 153 deaths this year, 65 of them newly born or stillborn calves, NOAA said last week.

Since mid-March, about 120 dead sea turtles also have been found, although the carcasses had no visible traces of oil, said Barbara Schroeder, NOAA Fisheries national sea turtle coordinator.

By Leigh Coleman

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A Year On, Gulf Still Grapples With BP Oil Spill
Reuters Article by Anna Driver and Matthew Bigg April 15, 2011

VENICE, La./WAVELAND, Miss., April 15 (Reuters) - When a BP oil rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico last April, killing 11 workers, authorities first reported that no crude was leaking into the ocean.

They were wrong.

The disaster that captivated the world's attention for 153 days struck at 9:53 p.m. CDT on April 20 (0253 GMT on April 21), when a surge of methane gas known to rig hands as a "kick" sparked an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig as it was drilling the mile (1.6 km)-deep Macondo 252 well off Louisiana's coast. Two days later, the rig sank.

One year on, oil from the largest spill in U.S. history clogs wetlands, pollutes the ocean and endangers wildlife, not to mention the toll it has inflicted on the coastal economies of Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and especially Louisiana.

It was the biggest ever accidental release of oil into an ocean.

Even so, environmental damage from the ruptured well that spewed more than 4 million barrels of oil (168 million gallons/636 million liters) into the Gulf in three months seems far less dire than the worst predictions, according to some Gulf residents and experts.

"It's a horrible mess but it's not the end of the world," said Edward Overton, professor emeritus of environmental sciences at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

"Some people thought it would be the end of the Gulf for decades and that's not even near the case," Overton said. "None of those predictions were right."

Such considerations are cold comfort to Gulf residents who saw their livelihoods decimated by the spill. More than 500,000 have claimed compensation from a $20 billion fund set up by BP -- at the insistence of President Barack Obama -- and administered by Kenneth Feinberg.

The mitigated view will also do little to stem the tide of litigation that will take years to make its way through federal court in New Orleans and beyond as plaintiffs seek to extract damages from London-based BP, which owned the Macondo well, and Swiss-based Transocean, which owned the rig.

"Fishermen are still worried that there's oil on the bottom of the Gulf. But we've got no control over that," said Errol Voisin, manager of the Lafitte Frozen Foods plant in Louisiana, who spoke ahead of a new shrimping season.

"INSULT TO INJURY"

The National Wildlife Federation paints a picture of an ocean ecology mauled by the spill and facing a long road to recovery. Thousands of birds and other wildlife died.

Sea turtles were hit hard. The western population of the bluefin tuna, which breeds only in the northern Gulf, was breeding just as oil spewed from the ocean floor. Contamination may have reduced juvenile tuna production by 20 percent.

In many cases, the slick compounded factors that already threatened the environment. Wetlands, for example, act as a natural barrier against storm surges but for decades oil industry penetration and other factors have eroded them.

Few places illustrate the damage more poignantly than Bay Jimmy, a breeding ground for shrimp, fish and oysters nestled in a labyrinth of waterways south of New Orleans.

Marshland around the bay still bears scars from the oil spill, with some areas ringed by dead grasses. Oil oozes from the ground just as it did last summer.

"When the oil hit, it was like adding insult to injury .... The concern for us is in terms of habitat for the wildlife," said Maura Wood, NWF's senior outreach coordinator.

Yet for all that, assessing the spill's impact presents a puzzle, experts say. Two examples illustrate the challenge.

"OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND"?

This year, 153 bottle-nosed dolphin carcasses have washed up on Gulf coasts: 65 of those were infants: new born, stillborn or born prematurely, according to figures from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The dolphins were conceived at the time of the spill, said Moby Solangi, president of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Mississippi.

To determine the cause of death requires a necropsy, which Solangi can perform at the institute, as well as toxicological and other forms of analysis.

But in February the government halted all external investigations into dolphin deaths and turned the matter over to NOAA, which is yet to release any findings.

"It is frustrating to any scientist. Certainly we want to get results," Solangi said in an interview.

For Samantha Joye, a marine sciences professor at the University of Georgia, the problem is the slow pace of research into exactly how oil affected the ocean.

Joye first identified so-called undersea 'oil plumes' during the spill and has since found evidence, such as crabs behaving sluggishly that seems to point to damage to the ocean floor. But she acknowledges more work needs to be done.

"I would like to be able to make conclusive statements about the health of the Gulf of Mexico but I can't because there's a lot we don't know," Joye said in an interview.

"There seems to be this 'If we can't see it, it's not going to hurt us' mentality. There's no oil on the surface therefore the problem is solved. That's just not true," she said.

CONFLICTING VIEWS ON ECONOMIC TOLL

One corporate casualty of the spill was BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward, who lost his job last July in a storm of criticism over perceived insensitivity to Gulf coast residents. He was replaced by Bob Dudley.

The oil giant says it has spent over $16 billion on redress and restoration projects, with total spending estimated at $40.9 billion.

BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg told shareholders on Thursday the company's response to the spill "was without precedent, and I think, has been recognized as such."

Protesters against the spill, some from the United States, demonstrated at BP's annual shareholder meeting in London. [ID:nNLDE73D214]

The disaster wiped about $70 billion from BP's market value, knocking its share price down from $61 a few days before the explosion to $26.75 in late June. The stock has recovered to close Thursday at $45.54 a share.

BP at least is upbeat about the Gulf's recovery.

"We are absolutely confident that the water is safe. The residents and tourists are telling us that the beaches have never looked better, the seafood is safe and delicious and I hear fishing is excellent right now as well," Mike Utsler, chief operating officer of BP's Gulf Coast Restoration Organization wrote in Facebook comments published this week.

But there are no clear overall estimates of economic damage from the slick as it ripped through sectors as diverse as fishing, tourism, municipal finance, real estate, banking and services.

In fact, there are almost as many conflicting views of the economic toll as there are stakeholders on the coast.

Tom Becker, president of the Charter Boat Captain's Association of Mississippi, said his business was down at least 50 percent because of a perception among potential clients that Gulf waters remain unsafe.

Rene Cross, owner of the Cypress Cove Marina in Venice, Louisiana, canceled his Cajun Canyons Billfish Classic deep sea fishing tournament last year as the government closed Gulf waters to fishing. But he is restarting the event this spring.

"We are getting reports of marlin getting caught, some nice fish. That's a positive sign for us," Cross said.

Many Gulf fishermen said they were waiting for full compensation from fund administrator Feinberg, a financial and psychological hardship among coastal residents who pride themselves on fierce independence.

Darlene Kimball, an oyster buyer at Pass Christian's harbor in Mississippi, opened her receipt books to show that this time last year she was buying up to 1,500 sacks of oysters a day. Last week that figure was down to 47 on some days.

When officials inspected the offshore beds, they found large numbers of dead oysters, so they did not do the dredging necessary for the new season.

Experts are yet to identify the cause of those deaths, though tests show live oysters are clean and Gulf seafood is now the most heavily tested in the world, residents said.

"I can't say for sure what killed the oysters because I'm no marine biologist. But what happened? They (the oysters) were there on April 20. We have not gotten paid (by Feinberg) and our business is nowhere near back to normal, Kimball said. "It's not fair. We didn't ask for this spill." (Additional reporting by Verna Gates in Birmingham, Leigh Coleman in Biloxi, Pascal Fletcher in Miami and Chris Baltimore in Houston, writing by Matthew Bigg; Editing by Philip Barbara)

By Anna Driver and Matthew Bigg

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Dolphin Samples Leaving Coast
SunHerald Article By Karen Nelson March 24, 2011

GULFPORT -- Federal representatives were working Thursday to take possession of samples from the 71 dolphins dead on the Mississippi and Alabama coasts this year, 53 of them stillborn or immature babies.

The hundreds of samples have been stored at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies since mid-January when the animals started dying in unusually high numbers. Most of the unusual deaths came well before the normal birthing season.

NOAA Fisheries was working Thursday, with the help of IMMS staff, identifying the samples, sorting them into batches for transportation and packing them in ice chests, said IMMS Director Moby Solangi.

They will leave the IMMS compound and likely the state without any local testing done, not even on duplicate samples, Solangi said, partly because of federal mandate and partly because of the lawsuits attached to the BP oil spill.

The samples will be transported via commercial delivery service, he said.

Where?

“I don’t know,” Solangi said. “They have their own labs … We’ll have to let all the samples go.”

NOAA Fisheries, other agencies and scientists have collected more than 28,000 samples in the northern Gulf for the National Resource Damage Assessment from the BP oil spill.

The dolphin samples fall under that process.

But until today, the samples from dolphins stranded on the Mississippi and Alabama coasts were stored at IMMS, untested. They include tissues taken from lungs and other organs, as many as 30 to 50 from each animal.

A letter from NOAA Fisheries in late February to those who collect tissue samples stressed that no samples may be sent for analysis without express permission from NOAA or NOAA Fisheries. And it referred to the federal “criminal investigation associated with the oil spill.”

IMMS even removed its listing of where and when the dolphins were found, the size and other details as a precaution following the letter.

“Because of the seriousness of the legal case, no data or findings may be released, presented or discussed” without prior approval from NOAA, the letter stated.

Concern for future

Solangi expressed concern this week that the northern Gulf has been critically underfunded for scientific research in years past and because of that, local universities and institutes have not been taken seriously as research unfolds with the oil spill.

He said public awareness would help.

“We need to develop capacity” to do more, he said, have the federal government enhance and foster local institutions so they can be more involved.

This area does not have the political focus or clout and it gets left behind in marine sciences, he said.

The last survey of the dolphin population for the north-central Gulf was in 1993 or 1994.

So the NOAA Fisheries Stock Assessment Reports say unknown, when talking about the number of dolphins, leaving the Gulf states without even a baseline of dolphin populations when the spill hit. And the Marine Mammal Protection Act requires population surveys, he said.

Solangi said he fears the oil spill is fading from public view.

“I think we were already forgotten,” he said. “If the baby dolphins hadn’t started dying, most people would have come to do an anniversary story and be gone.”

By Karen Nelson

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Another Baby Dolphin Washes Ashore in Biloxi
SunHerald Article by Donna Harris March 18, 2011

BILOXI -- Coast dolphin experts collected samples from another baby dolphin found washed ashore Friday morning.

A crew from the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport retrieved the female calf from Biloxi Beach near Mirimar Park after a passerby found it on the sand, Executive Director Moby Solangi said.

The calf was slightly longer than 3 feet, which is an average size for a newborn. It was very decomposed, he said.

Solangi said the calf probably died a few days after its birth.

IMMS is charged with collecting the samples for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for testing. The samples are sent in batches to NOAA, rather than on a case-by-case basis. NOAA then sends the samples to a lab.

“This batch will be ready to go in a couple of weeks,” he said.

More than 60 dolphin strandings in Alabama and Mississippi have been reported since January, including three in Alabama on Thursday. Most were infants.

Solangi said that’s an unusual amount for those months, since the stranding season begins in March.

“Many were stillborn, some premature. Some lived a few days,” he said.

It’s also unusual that no other marine animal fatalities such as dead turtles, fish, birds or adult dolphins have been reported, he said.

He said the dolphin calves could be the victim of an infectious disease or “some environmental issues.”

Solangi doesn’t rule out effects from the BP oil spill, but until testing is completed on the samples, the cause for their deaths can’t be confirmed.

The mother dolphins of the dead calves would have been pregnant and swimming in polluted waters this time last year, he said.

However, if dispersants or oil contributed to the deaths, he’d expect to see more cases in Louisiana, he said.

Because stranding season continues through May, more dolphins could make their way to South Mississippi beaches, he said. He urged the public to be cautious and avoid contact with the mammals if found.

“Nobody should touch it. It’s a public health issue,” he said. “Don’t get close to it. Whatever caused its death, we want to make sure the public is safe.”

Female dolphins have a 12-month gestation period then nurse for two years.

Dolphins who have lost babies this year can’t become pregnant again until next season.

An average female will give birth six to 10 years in her lifetime.

To report stranded dolphins, call 888-SOS-DOLPHIN (767-3657).

By Donna Harris

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Dolphin Tissue Testing Yet To Begin
WLOX Video by Jeff Lawson March 18, 2011

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9 Dead Dolphins Found Since Saturday in Alabama and Mississippi
SunHerald Article by Ben Raines March 18, 2011

Despite what she called an “unusual mortality event” killing dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico, the top federal scientist investigating the deaths, revealed Wednesday that the government has yet to send any tissue samples for laboratory testing to determine a cause. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Blair Mase blamed the delay on complications related to oil spill litigation.

A letter sent by NOAA to groups authorized to collect tissue samples from dead dolphins described the work as “a criminal investigation,” according to Mase.

Nine more dolphin carcasses were recovered in Alabama and Mississippi between Saturday and Wednesday, bringing the total for the two states to 62 since Jan. 1, according to a list compiled Wednesday by the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies.

That list, which had been maintained online by the institute, has since been removed. The institute had been the only source for the specific locations and dates when dead dolphins were found. Federal officials provide only a state-by-state count.

The federal tally is now 114 dead dolphins found throughout the Gulf states. Fifty of them are listed as neonatal, meaning they were either stillborn or aborted by their mothers.

Federal statistics from 2002 to 2007 suggest about 14 dead dolphins would normally wash ashore between January and March along the entire Gulf Coast, with most of those in March, the beginning of the dolphin calving season.

The dolphins are considered potential evidence in the Natural Resources Damage Assessment, or NRDA, lawsuit federal officials will file against BP PLC, majority owner of the well that spawned the Gulf spill.

“The analytical facilities do not have the samples yet. We haven’t sent them out. Once we identify the proper analytic labs, we’ll send the samples out,” said Mase.

She said that it would be months before any laboratory results would be available, and possibly longer before conclusions could be drawn.

“We have to be very methodical, particularly in regards to what facilities we use, the chain of custody,” Mase said. “So I would say, yes, (the NRDA process) does play a role in this, in the delay.”

No cause ruled out

While popular sentiment along the Gulf Coast leans heavily toward blaming BP’s oil spill for the dolphin deaths, Mase said that NOAA isn’t ruling anything out.

Among the possible causes under consideration:

  • dinoflagellate blooms, such as red tide.
  • snowmelt flowing into the Gulf from winter storms.
  • morbillivirus, a dolphin virus related to measles and canine distemper.
  • dietary disruptions tied to the oil spill.
  • other spill related effects.

“We’re not any closer, unfortunately, to having a definitive cause. We are still getting dead animals, but there does seem to be a general tapering down,” Mase said. “In all of these years in my job, sometimes you find the cause and that feels really good. But in this particular case, you don’t see that smoking gun.”

Ruth Carmichael, who studies marine mammals at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, expressed frustration with NOAA and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

“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,” Carmichael said.

By Ben Raines

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Officials Sure Early Dolphins Were Stillborn
SunHerald Article by Karen Nelson March 17, 2011

GULFPORT -- Federal officials involved in the investigation of the deaths of dozens of baby dolphins along the northern Gulf said Wednesday that they are certain now that a portion of the infants were stillborn -- that their mothers did not carry them to full term.

Blair Mase, the Southeast Regional Stranding Coordinator, said they don’t have all the data and they are still collecting bodies.

But she said, “We know for a fact that a portion of the calves that washed ashore, especially the ones in January or early February, were stillborn.”

She said, “It’s a very important distinction, to know what stage these animals were in when they died, whether they were pre-term and aborted or whether they were born.”

She said it’s a clue to what was going on with the mothers during the birthing cycle.

However, she said they have no fresh carcasses of female dolphins that had just given birth.

According to NOAA Fisheries statistics as of Tuesday night, 112 dolphins have washed ashore this year from Apalachicola, Fla., to the Louisiana/Texas line. Of those, 50 were premature or newborns.

The percentage of calf deaths is much higher for Mississippi and Alabama.

The Institute for Marine Mammals in Gulfport collects the data for NOAA in those states. It had listed on its website on Wednesday, a total of 62 dolphin deaths this year in those two states; 45 are calves.

NOAA also reported Wednesday that since February 2010, 361 bottlenose dolphins and small whales have died in the northern Gulf. This includes deaths during the BP oil spill throughout the summer.

“Now we’re getting into the season where the younger animals are washing ashore as part of the normal life cycle,” Mase said. “March is typically when we get them washing ashore, normal casualties in the birthing season.”

The deaths in January and February were out of season, she said.

“Some were so small and they still had attached umbilical cords,” she said. Some of their lungs didn’t pass the float test, an indicator that they never took a breath.

Moby Solangi, director of IMMS, said Wednesday that he concurs that determining whether the infant dolphins were stillborn is important.

“It’s quite possible,” he said, “it would lead the investigation in a different direction.”

By Karen Nelson

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Cold Water Influx in Gulf May Have Delivered Fatal Blow to Dead Dolphins
Press Register Article by Ben Raines March 8, 2011

A combination of factors probably led to this year’s rash of dolphin deaths, although plumes of cold water that entered Mobile Bay in January and February may have delivered the killing blow, according to one of the Gulf’s foremost dolphin scientists.

Graham Worthy, a University of Central Florida researcher who ran the state of Texas’ dolphin research program for a decade, said it may be impossible to pinpoint the exact cause of death for the 90 animals that have been recovered this year.

But, Worthy said, basic tests looking at the fat composition of the animals’ blubber layer and the condition of their skin, would reveal much about the overall fitness of the creatures before they died.

“I suspect what we are seeing is several things coming together to form a perfect storm,” Worthy said. “The cold was a very unusual circumstance, but I think we may also be seeing an indirect effect stemming from the BP oil spill, from the way it may have disrupted the food chain.”

The Gulfport-based Institute of Marine Mammal Studies reported only one new animal found in either Alabama or Mississippi over the weekend. About half of the 90 dead dolphins found so far were calves.

Federal officials said they would be supplying Worthy with tissue samples from the dead dolphins and relying on his laboratory analysis as they try to determine what killed the animals. It is unclear when Worthy and other scientists will receive tissue samples so that they can begin their research.

Temperature and river flow gauges show that melting snow flowing into the rivers that drain into Mobile Bay caused a sudden and sharp drop in water temperatures shortly before dolphin carcasses began washing ashore, first in Alabama, then Mississippi.

Scientists from the Dauphin Island Sea Lab have speculated that one particular 15-degree drop in water temperatures within a 24-hour period may have killed many of the dolphins.

“Wow. That’s a significant drop,” said Blair Mase, the senior National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist investigating the dolphin deaths. She called the relationship between the cold plumes and the dolphin deaths “interesting” and said it was among the factors researchers would probe.

However, Mase said, the region has experienced cold winters in the past, such as last year, without an associated rise in dolphin deaths.

Worthy said the key this year might be in the way water temperatures may have worked in concert with other factors.

“In terms of the absolute temperature, would that be enough to kill an otherwise healthy, adult bottlenose dolphin? Probably not in and of itself,” Worthy said.

“Basically, had the dolphins been fully healthy, I don’t think we would have seen the mortality. The critical part of this picture is what condition were the animals in before the cold?”

Much of Worthy’s prior research has centered on the analysis of both blubber and skin tissue in marine mammals. He said the blubber layer of dolphins changes during the year, with a much higher fat content in winter compared to summer.

“The winter fat content, think of it like putting high-quality foam insulation in your house. That will keep you much warmer than if you put crumpled newspaper in your walls,” Worthy said, explaining that in the summer, dolphins let the fat level drop by about half to help them shed heat.

He said that disruptions in the summer and fall feeding routine this year might have left the animals with insufficient fat layers. Among the possible disruptions, Worthy said, were impacts related to the BP spill.

“A lot of the things these dolphins feed on spawn offshore. Were they exposed to oil? Were parts of their normal diet unavailable?” Graham asked. “If you’ve got a dolphin that is feeding in the fall on poorer quality prey, it hasn’t had time to develop that blubber it needs for the winter. If it gets cold, they may not be able to survive.”

Worthy and Mase both said closing Gulf waters to fishing during the spill may also have played a role. With shrimp boats and commercial and recreational fishermen off the water, two of the primary food sources for local dolphins would have been removed.

For instance, in Mobile Bay, pods of dolphins follow closely behind shrimp boats, both as they drag their nets and as they cull their catch. Ultimately, each boat amounts to a free seafood buffet for any dolphins in the area. Likewise, federal web sites document the growing problem of dolphins stealing fish from rod and reel fishermen, either while they are being reeled in or just after they are released.

Worthy speculated that such a shift will ultimately be revealed.

“It makes sense. Any kind of prey shift will impact the animals,” Mase said of the fishing closure. “That’s why Graham’s work is so important. We want to know if there was a prey shift.”

By Ben Raines

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Infant Dolphin Deaths Still On Rise
SunHerald Article By Karen Nelson March 4, 2011

GULFPORT -- The number of dolphins dead this year in Mississippi and Alabama has reached 48. Of those, 39 are infants or stillborn, according to a NOAA Fisheries report today.

This week the small carcasses have washed ashore in Mississippi along the beaches of Long Beach, Pass Christian and East Ship and Sand islands and in Alabama at Orange Beach and Dauphin Island.

The number of dolphin deaths confirmed in the northern Gulf, from Apalachicola, Fla., to the Louisiana border with Texas, the coastal area effected by the BP oil spill, is 87, with 46 of them infant calves or stillborn.

By far, the greatest number of infant carcasses have washed ashore in Mississippi and Alabama. Data from all the bodies has been collected by the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport for analysis by labs that are yet to be selected by federal agencies.

According to the state Department of Environmental Quality, the condition of the small bodies has not been better than a three on a scale of one to six, with one being fresh with no decomposition. The lead biologist with DEQ said today that the condition of the tissue will play a big role on how quickly and accurately scientists will be able to determine why or how they died.

Read what the science community has to say about the sudden rise in dolphin infant deaths in Sunday's Sun Herald.

By Karen Nelson

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Scientists Debate Cause of Dolphin Deaths
Reuters Article By Leigh Coleman March 4, 2011

(Reuters) - Marine scientists are debating whether 80-plus bottlenose dolphins found dead along the U.S. Gulf Coast since January were more likely to have died from last year's oil spill or a winter cold snap.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared "an unusual mortality event" last week when the number of dead dolphins washing up in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida had reached nearly 60, about half of them newly born or stillborn calves.

The death toll along shoreline has climbed to at least 82 since then, many times the normal mortality rate for dolphins along the Gulf Coast this time of year.

Although none so far showed outward signs of oil contamination, suspicions immediately turned to petrochemicals that fouled Gulf waters after a BP drilling platform exploded in April 2010, rupturing a wellhead on the sea floor.

Eleven workers were killed in the blast, and an estimated 5 million barrels (206 million gallons) of crude oil spewed into the Gulf over more than three months.

Scientists in the Gulf already were in the midst of investigating last year's discovery of nearly 90 dead dolphins, most of them adults, when officials became alarmed at a surge in dead baby dolphins turning up on beaches in January.

The latest spike in deaths, and a high concentration of premature infants among them, has led some experts to speculate that oil ingested or inhaled by dolphins at the time of the spill has taken a belated toll on the marine mammals, possibly leading to dolphin miscarriages.

The die-off has come at the start of the first dolphin calving season in the northern Gulf since the BP blowout.

But scientists at the independent Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama suggested Thursday that unusually chilly water temperatures in the Gulf may be a key factor.

"Everyone wants to blame toxicity due to the oil spill, said Monty Graham, a senior scientist at the Dauphin Island lab. "The oil spill ... very well could have been the cause of the dolphin deaths. But the cold weather could have been the last straw for these animals."

He noted that water temperatures abruptly plunged from the upper 50s into the 40s off Dauphin Island in January, just before the first two stillborn calves found there were recovered. He said a second wave of dolphin carcasses washed ashore after temperatures dipped again.

Fellow Dauphin Island scientist Ruth Carmichael called the arrival of the cold snap "incredibly compelling."

"The timing of the cold water may have been important because the dolphins were late in their pregnancies, about one to two months from giving birth. That might render them more vulnerable to temperature shocks," she said.

But NOAA officials discounted the significance of chilly weather, saying a similar cold snap in February 2010, months before the oil spill, was accompanied by higher-than-normal mortality among a range of wildlife, including fish and sea turtles. They also cited research showing bottlenose dolphins tend to swim away from extremely cool waters.

"These animals have the ability to move away from cold. They don't stay around in cold water," said Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Mississippi.

Scientists on both sides of the argument agreed that if frigid weather were to blame, the end of the die-off is likely at hand as warmer temperatures return.

But NOAA experts are bracing for the number of deaths to jump further as the bottlenose calving season reaches full swing in the coming weeks, said Blair Mase, a marine mammal scientist for the agency. Some 2,000 to 5,000 dolphins in the region typically bear their young this time of year.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Greg McCune)

By Leigh Coleman

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Cold Water Flowing Into Gulf May Have Killed Baby Dolphins, Say Scientists
Press Register Article By Ben Raines March 3, 2011

MOBILE, Ala. -- Cold water may have killed the dolphins washing up in Mississippi and Alabama, scientists with the Dauphin Island Sea Lab said Wednesday.

They point to an apparent correlation between large pulses of chilly water that flowed into Mobile Bay during January and February and the subsequent discovery of dozens of stillborn dolphin calves in area waters.

Data on water temperature and river flows show periods in each month when bay waters dipped into the 40s for days at a time. Shortly after bay temperatures dropped precipitously, dead stillborn dolphins began washing ashore in Alabama.

The Sea Lab scientists also speculated that most of the dead animals found in Mississippi may have actually died in Alabama waters.

“The timing for everything works out pretty well. We had the one significant snowfall event in the middle of January. After that, the timing is right in terms of the snow melting and arriving in Mobile Bay as a freshet, this pulse of cold, fresh water that arrives and then dissipates,” said Monty Graham, a marine biologist with the Sea Lab.

'They don't stay around in cold water'

So far this year, 46 dolphins, mostly calves, have been found in Mississippi and Alabama, That represents a sharp rise from the January and February average reported by federal officials of about three dolphin deaths in all of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

More than 30 dolphins, mostly adults, have been found in Louisiana. An additional five calves were reported there on Wednesday.

Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, discounted the idea that cold water played a role in the deaths.

“These animals have the ability to move away from cold. They don’t stay around in cold water,” Solangi said Wednesday. “We don’t want to speculate on what happened to the dolphins. We want empirical data and right now we don’t have any. If it is cold temperature, we’ll find out. But based on what we’ve seen so far, it could be anything.”

Graham agreed that it was too early to rule out other possible factors, such as the presence of oil in the Gulf ecosystem and foodchain, and the role of viruses and bacteria.

Runoff from winter weather

With the snow line just north of Mobile Bay, the entire coastal area was subjected to either snow or cold rain in early January. More importantly, most of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee were covered in snow. A substantial portion of runoff, including melted snow, from all of those states ultimately ends up in Mobile Bay.

The water temperature data and river gauges show the first freshet of cold water entering the bay on Jan. 12 and continued for about four days. Temperatures in the bay during that event dropped to 41 degrees at Dauphin Island, Graham said. The first two stillborn dolphin carcasses were recovered in Alabama on Jan. 15 and 17, according to the mammal institute’s records.

Taking into account the time it would take for snow to melt as far north as Tennessee and then travel down the rivers to the bay, a second pulse from the same snowfall appears to have entered the bay a few weeks later, during the first week of February.

At that point, the rivers were carrying as much water as they typically carry during spring floods. Water temperatures dropped 14 degrees overnight, from 59 degrees to 45 degrees, Graham said. And again, a new batch of dolphin began washing ashore within days.

“For these animals, that second freshet was the sucker punch. You can see from the temperature and salinity signature that it blasted through the bay from the top to the bottom with that cold water,” Graham said. “The temps dropped so fast and the river water was moving so fast, these animals wouldn’t have had a chance to swim out of the way. They were swimming in really cold water within 24 hours. That’s just a real shock to the system.”

A shock to pregnant dolphins?

The question that remains, said Ruth Carmichael, another Sea Lab researcher, is whether that kind of shock is enough to cause dolphins to abort. She called the apparent correlation between the timing of the dolphin deaths and the arrival of the cold water, “incredibly compelling.”

“There isn’t even a lot of info in the literature about these acute, sudden potential stress events. There is even less about calves and the potential for spontaneous abortions,” Carmichael said. “We can’t find anything in the scientific literature that addresses that.”

While the newspaper has been unable to find formal records on a similar spate of dolphin deaths in Alabama in January of 1990, articles in the Press-Register document 14 animals washing ashore, many of them stillborn calves. At the time, Sea Lab scientists suggested that extreme cold weather killed the animals.

Carmichael also speculated that the timing of the cold water may have been important because the dolphins were late in their pregnancies, about one to two months from giving birth. She said that might render them more vulnerable to temperature shocks.

Graham said that if cold water was to blame for the dolphin deaths it suggests two things: One, the end of the die off is likely at hand, and two, most of the animals found in Mississippi may have actually died in Alabama waters.

“If the calves died in Alabama and were floating, they would have been pushed offshore by that same freshet of cold water and wouldn’t have come back to shore until the freshet dissipated,” Graham said. “That is really interesting given the way the Mississippi animals showed up later. This sounds like a mortality event that may have happened in Alabama and the bodies are now washing up to the west in Mississippi and Louisiana.”

By Ben Raines

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Dolphin Baby Die Off In Gulf Puzzles Scientists
National Geographic Article by Ker Than March 2, 2011

This winter an alarmingly high number of young bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico (map)have been washing up dead on U.S. shores, government scientists report.

The reason for the die-off is a mystery, and experts are urging caution in drawing any connections to last year's BP oil spill.

"Everybody wants to jump to that conclusion ... but at this point in time, it's too early to tell," said Blair Mase, coordinator of the Southeast Marine Mammal Stranding Network of the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA).

Since January 1, 80 dead dolphins have been discovered along the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, according to the latest NOAA figures.

Forty-two of the dead were calves. Most of the juvenile dolphins are washing up in Mississippi and Alabama, because dolphins typically give birth and raise calves along the shallow shores of those states.

The normal gestation period for the dolphins is one year, and mothers usually give birth in March and April, so scientists think the affected calves are either being aborted, stillborn, or born prematurely.

"That's one part of the investigation that we're going to be looking at very carefully," Mase said.

"We'll methodically score each animal that has come ashore to determine if, in fact, it was an aborted calf or an animal born alive."

(Related: "Dolphin Mystery: What's Killing Firstborn Calves?")

BP Oil Spill "a Factor We Need to Consider"

Dolphin die-offs—which scientists call unusual mortality events—occur every few years. But this one stands out, because young dolphins appear to be hardest hit, marine biologist Moby Solangi said.

"Usually in a stranding, you have a mixture of animals—males, females, adults, calves—but this one is distortedly focused on neonates," said Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS) in Gulfport, Mississippi, which is helping to investigate the deaths.

Also unusual: Only dolphins appear to be affected so far. No mass deaths of turtles, fish, or birds have been reported for this die-off. (Also see "Why Are Birds Falling From the Sky?")

Known causes of dolphin die-offs include unusually cold waters, ocean biotoxins, and diseases.

NOAA's Mase said scientists are investigating all of these factors and are not ruling out a possible connection to the BP oil spill.

"It's something that we are including in our investigation," Mase said.

IMMS's Solangi agreed that the BP oil spill "is a factor that we need to consider."

"The oil spill lasted several months, and it covered tens of thousands of square miles and much of the habitat of these animals."

IMMS scientists are currently performing necropsies on the dead dolphins to try to determine causes of death. The process—including analyzing tissue samples for signs of diseases, viral infections, and toxins—could take several weeks or months, Solangi said.

(Related pictures: ten animals at risk due to the Gulf oil spill.)

Oil Link Tough to Prove

While a link between last year's BP oil spill and this year's dolphin deaths is possible, it could be very difficult to prove, said Craig Matkin, a marine biologist at the North Gulf Oceanic Society in Alaska.

Matkin co-authored a study in 2008 that looked at the effects of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill on killer whale populations in Alaska's Prince William Sound. (Read National Geographic magazine's 1990 coverage of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.)

"I'm not overly optimistic that they're going to be able to find a link," he said.

One reason is that—unlike other environmental toxins, such as the pesticide DDT—the hydrocarbon molecules in oil are quickly processed by the body and do not persist in tissues, Matkin explained.

Scientists also don't have a good idea of how the spill might have affected dolphins still in the womb.

Oil is thought to affect marine animals through inhalation or direct and indirect ingestion—for example, by eating tainted fish. But the calves now showing up dead may not have even been conceived before or during the worst weeks of the spill and thus were not exposed to the oil directly.

Dolphin Die-offs Largely Cold Cases

In his 2008 study, Matkin's team concluded that the Exxon Valdez spill affected Alaskan killer whale populations for decades after the event. After inhaling oil vapors or eating oil-coated seals, for example, the whales experienced everything from "mild irritation" to instant death, the study days.

It's unknown how the 1989 spill affected calves. Killer whales tend to give birth in deep water, so dead calves are much less likely to wash ashore.

(Related: "Exxon Valdez Anniversary: 20 Years Later, Oil Remains.")

Matkin pointed out key differences between the two events.

"This is just not the same kind of situation," he said. "We were following individual animals for a period of time before the [Exxon Valdez] spill, so we knew who was missing, down to the individual.

"It's very different when you have a bunch of unknown animals stranded on a beach and you don't know anything about their history."

NOAA's Mase said it's possible that no satisfactory answer will ever be found for the dolphin-baby die-off.

"There have been 14 [unusual mortality events] since 1990," she said. "And of those 14, we've only been able to determine the causes for 6."

By Ker Than

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Baby Dolphin Deaths Focused On Coast
Fox10 Video by John Rogers March 1, 2011

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Dolphin Deaths Higher in Mississippi, Alabama
SunHerald Article by Karen Nelson March 1, 2011

GULFPORT -- A dead dolphin calf washed ashore in Long Beach on Tuesday and a dead dolphin was reported on Cat Island, but the age of that one was unconfirmed.

Tuesday’s bodies bring to 37 the number of newborn or stillborn dolphins dead on the beaches of Mississippi and Alabama so far this year. Eight adults also have been confirmed in the two states.

The calf deaths have been particularly disconcerting for researchers and scientists because they are happening in the weeks before the dolphin birthing season goes into full swing in the northern Gulf.

In the first two months of 2010, two calves were reported dead. In 2009, the number for January and February was one.

The percentage of calf deaths among the total number of dolphin deaths is considerably higher in Mississippi and Alabama.

Nineteen of the 25 in Mississippi are calves and 18 of the 20 in Alabama are calves.

But for the region as a whole -- the four states that make up the northern Gulf -- there have been 81 dolphins of all ages reported dead this year, of those, 43 are calves.

Whatever is killing baby bottlenose dolphins in this area hit by the BP oil spill, it seems to be worst along Mississippi and Alabama -- one-sixth of the affected coastline.

Only two of six dead dolphins found in the Florida Panhandle were calves and only four of 31 found in Louisiana, where the coastal oil impact was greatest.

Although the oil spill is still being investigated as a possible cause of the deaths, the pattern might move it lower down the list, said Ruth Ewing, a veterinary pathologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Miami.

But Randall Wells, head of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, said he couldn’t say whether it shows anything at all. Sick animals can swim long distances and winds and currents can wash them ashore a long way from where they died, he said.

“That leads to problems when trying to understand what they were exposed to, whether it be a disease, an environmental contaminant of some type or a biotoxin,” said Wells, whose program is a collaboration between the Chicago Zoological Society and Mote Marine Laboratory.

The difference between Louisiana and the other three states “is interesting, but it’s probably too early to make too much of that,” he said.

Ewing said scientists don’t know what causes “abortion storms” -- large numbers of stillbirths and premature births -- in dolphins. Bacteria and toxins being investigated are known to cause such events in other marine mammals, she said.

If bacteria caused the abortions, numbers also might vary from state to state depending on patterns of immunity, she said.

She didn’t think the cold winter a likely cause, noting extreme heat is more likely than cold to bring on stillbirths and premature births in land animals.

Another possibility is the dolphins in Mississippi and Alabama included more young mothers than the other groups -- first pregnancies are the most likely to go wrong, she said.

The current deaths are the third peak in a 13-month increase in strandings for all dolphins and whales along the northern Gulf Coast. Numbers were slightly above average in Feburary 2010, but shot up to 60 in March and 40 in April -- more than triple the 2002-09 averages for those months.

Numbers shot up even more just after the spill, which started in late April -- 36 in May and 30 in June, seven and eight times those monthly averages.

The deaths may have multiple causes, Wells said: “Trying to identify a single cause may be looking in a wrong direction.”

The causes may be natural, human-created, or a combination, he said. The number and variety of possible causes means many different samples must go out to many different laboratories, he said.

“A lot of people are trying to push a button and come up with what’s behind this. But that’s just not the way these investigations go,” he said.

Sun Herald reporter Karen Nelson, and Associated Press writer Janet McConnaughey contributed to this report.

By Karen Nelson

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Two More Dolphins Reported Today; One A Calf
SunHerald Article by Karen Nelson March 1, 2011

GULFPORT -- A dolphin calf washed ashore in Long Beach today and there is a dead dolphin reported on Cat Island, but the age of that one is unconfirmed.

Today’s bodies bring to 37 the number of infant or stillborn dolphins dead on the beaches of Mississippi and Alabama in the first two months of this year. Nine adult dolphin deaths also have been confirmed in the two states during the same period of time.

The calf deaths have been particularly disconcerting for researchers and scientists because they are happening in the weeks before the dolphin birthing season goes into full swing in the northern Gulf.

In the first two months of last year, there were two calves reported dead and in 2009, the number for January and February was one.

The percentage of calf deaths among the total number of dolphin deaths is considerably higher in Mississippi and Alabama.

Nineteen of the 24 in Mississippi are calves and 18 of the 20 in Alabama are calves.

For the region as a whole -- the four states that make up the northern Gulf -- there have been 81 dolphins of all ages reported dead this year, of those, 43 are calves.

Read more in Wednesday’s Sun Herald.

By Karen Nelson

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Oil Spill Link Suspected as Dead Dolphins Wash Ashore
The Independent Article by Michael McCarthy March 2, 2011

The discovery of more than 80 dead dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico is raising fresh concerns about the effect on sea life from last year's massive BP oil spill.

The dead dolphins began appearing in mid-January along the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama in the United States. Although none of the carcasses appeared to show outward signs of oil contamination, all were being examined as possible casualties of the petrochemicals that fouled the sea water and sea bed after BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling platform exploded last April, killing 11 men and rupturing a wellhead on the sea floor. The resulting "gusher" produced the largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, releasing nearly five billion barrels of crude oil before it was capped in July.

The remains of 77 animals – nearly all bottlenose dolphins – have been discovered on islands, in marshes and on beaches along 200 miles of coastline. This figure is more than 10 times the number normally found washed up around this time of year, which is calving season for some 2,000 to 5,000 dolphins in the region. Another seven dead animals were reported yesterday, although the finds have not yet been confirmed by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

One of the more disturbing aspects of the deaths is that nearly half – 36 animals so far – have been newborn or stillborn dolphin calves. In January 2009 and 2010, there were no reports of stranded calves, and because this is the first calving season since the BP disaster, scientists are concerned that the spill may be a cause.

"The number of baby dolphins washing ashore now is new and something we are very concerned about," NOAA spokeswoman Blair Mase said. She said that the agency had declared the alarming cluster of deaths "an unusual mortality event", adding: "Because of this declaration, many resources are expected to be allocated to investigating this."

The Institute of Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Mississippi, has been tasked with examining the dead animals. "We are on high alert here," said Moby Solangi, the institute's director. "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."

Mr Solangi said that scientists from his organisation had performed full necropsies – the animal equivalent of autopsies – on about one-third of the dead calves. "The majority of the calves were too decomposed to conduct a full necropsy, but tissue samples were collected for analysis," he said. So far the examinations have been inconclusive.

The spill was the greatest ever in the US – 20 times as big as the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989 – and initially it was thought it would prove the worst US environmental disaster, imperiling the rich wildlife of the gulf's semi-tropical waters.

By the end of last year about 7,000 dead creatures had been collected, including more than 6,000 birds and 600 sea turtles. But this compares with the figure of perhaps 250,000 seabirds killed as a result of the March 1989 Exxon disaster.

By Michael McCarthy

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Press Register Article By Ben Raines March 1, 2011

MOBILE, Ala. -- With six new dolphin carcasses discovered in Mississippi and Alabama since Saturday, a review of the scientific literature associated with similar mass die-offs of marine mammals around the world suggests a common culprit: a morbillivirus.

In the same family as the viruses that cause measles in humans and canine distemper in dogs, there are well-documented outbreaks of fatal morbillivirus infections in dolphins, whales and seals around the world since the 1980s.

Jerry Saliki, a University of Georgia researcher and veterinarian who has published a number of scientific papers on morbillivirus infections in dolphins, said the virus could be responsible for the current mass die off.

“It is certainly possible. In the past, there have been significant die offs in the Gulf with dolphins that were attributed to morbillivirus,” Saliki said Monday. “But, there are so many possible causes of mass mortality. Unless a laboratory test confirms, you cannot pin it to morbillivirus.”

Saliki said it takes a few days to confirm the presence of morbillivirus in a dead animal, provided viable samples can be collected. He speculated that no one had so far tested the Gulf animals for the disease, adding, “you can only find things you actually look for.”

Federal officials said Monday that tests for morbillivirus are “pending.”

44 dolphins found dead this year

The new carcasses found over the weekend included five calves and one adult. In Alabama, two were found on West Point Island, next to Dauphin Island, and another was found near Fowl River. In Mississippi, calves were found in Gulfport, Pass Christian and on Cat Island. The total for the two states so far this year is 44 dolphins, with 36 of those being calves, according to records kept by the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport.

Between 2002 and 2007, an average of three dead dolphins washed up between Apalachicola, Fla., and the Texas/Louisiana border in January and February, according to federal records. This year, 77 animals have been found during the same time period.

“This has become quite a significant event,” said Kim Amendola, with the National Marine Fisheries Service. “You look at the numbers from previous years and you can see the difference.”

In 1987 and 1988, 740 dolphins washed up dead on beaches along the Atlantic Coast, including many calves, due to an outbreak of morbillivirus. Scientists estimated that thousands of dolphins died during the episode. Some scientists have speculated that as many as half of all dolphins on the East Coast may have died during the epidemic.

As is the case with the current episode in the Gulf, the carcasses of many dolphins may have disappeared in the ocean before they could be counted. Other morbillivirus outbreaks have been documented in the Mediterranean, the Irish Sea and Russia.

Morbillivirus outbreak has struck before

Several spates of dolphin deaths in the Gulf since the 1980s have been attributed to morbillivirus outbreaks. Scientific papers about those outbreaks noted that the virus moved slowly along the coast from east to west, much like flu outbreaks spread through the human population. A more recent scientific paper described the Gulf’s dolphin population as “immunologically naive,” meaning they did not have antibodies to these viruses.

“Mass mortality only occurs in an immunologically naive population. Once the virus goes through, the survivors are probably protected. That’s why you don’t see mass mortality occurring year after year,” Saliki said. Given that dolphins live an average of about 20 years, Saliki said it was possible there are many dolphins in the Gulf that have never been exposed to morbillivirus.

Most of the animals discovered in Alabama and Mississippi have been stillborn or aborted calves. Saliki said morbillivirus itself is not known for causing infected animals to abort.

“But, any animal that is really sick, it might abort, even though the infection might not be the actual cause,” Saliki said. “We could be seeing something like that.”

Saliki said he was unaware of any research that addressed the possibility that exposure to oil or other contaminants, such as occurred during the summer’s oil spill in the Gulf, might increase a dolphin’s susceptibility to morbilliviruses.

Ultimately, the ongoing dolphin die off in the Gulf is unusual and distressing, but not unprecedented. While the number of dead dolphins found this year is much higher than normal, the 77 dead animals that have been found represent just a small percentage of the Gulf’s population of 45,000, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Federal scientists say some other marine mammals, such as pygmy sperm whales, have also died unexpectedly during what they describe as “an unusual mortality event” that began more than a year ago.

Anyone who finds a dead dolphin can report it to either NOAA’s Public Reporting Hotline for Stranded Marine Mammals at: 877-WHALEHELP, or the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport at 1-888-767-3657. GPS coordinates for the carcasses are particularly helpful.

By Ben Raines

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Experts Call Dolphins Our "Canary in a Coal Mine"
WLOX News Video by February 28, 2011

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What's Killing Baby Dolphins in Gulf?
Geraldo At Large News Video by Craig Rivera February 28, 2011

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Dozens of Dead Dolphins Washing Up on Shores of Gulf Coast
WWL New Orleans News Video by Doug Mouton February 28, 2011

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Gulf Dolphins Dying
ABC News Video by Matt Gutman February 26, 2011

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Researchers Carry a Heavy Load with Dolphin Deaths
SunHerald Article by Karen Nelson February 26, 2011

MISSISSIPPI SOUND -- Megan Broadway sits on the bow of the Dolphin Rescue II on Tuesday, bundled in cold-weather gear and headed for Horn Island.

She is 26, with long brown hair pulled into a ponytail. She has an extra hairband on her wrist and a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich with her.

A research assistant, she has studied dolphins in the northern Gulf for three years. Today, she will oversee a crew cutting tissue from the backs of four baby dolphin carcasses that washed ashore on the island. This trip is one of many recently, as the bodies continue to wash ashore. The extra work is overwhelming.

She eats part of her lunch early, on the way out. It’s not just a sanitation issue or that dolphins and humans share some diseases. She won’t want to eat after what she will do, dealing with the tiny carcasses.

Her crew is made up of another research assistant, an intern and a volunteer. Megan has a map with GPS locations for the four small dolphins. On her clipboard is a list of tissues to take -- skin, blubber, muscle, organs -- if the bodies aren’t too decomposed.

“On our coast we don’t usually get the really fresh ones,” she says. The water is warm and decomposition begins quickly.

It’s hard to remember totals or exact locations of the babies picked up along the Mississippi and Alabama coastlines recently, there have been so many. Her boss at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies calls it an explosion this month, really in just the past 10 days. And this is well before the birthing season goes into full swing.

“We had so many called in yesterday,” she says, almost absentmindedly. “We were getting calls all day.”

Because there have been so many dead, she thinks this trend will continue through May, during the months when dolphins normally give birth. It is called the stranding season, because birth is a tricky process for dolphins and often in the northern Gulf a calf or two washes up among the adults that die. But in the last six weeks there have been 31 calves dead in Mississippi and Alabama, where Broadway works.

Those who are watching the statistics rise and the data come in call it an anomaly. Some look to the 2010 BP oil spill, when these babies were in the womb. Broadway has no comment.

At the first dolphin

The logo on Broadway’s shirt is a white dolphin tail, yellow letters and a red cross.

She is a first responder of sorts.

With GPS in hand, she leads the way to the first small body on the Gulf side of Horn Island -- blue-green insides, mouth agape, partially buried in the sand.

The top fin is intact, patches of skin are gone, the eyes are gone, teeth exposed. Its abdomen is opened because it is partially eaten.

“We call it scavenged,” she says.

It’s a newborn. It still has its fetal folds, the light-colored marks on its skin from being folded in its mother’s womb.

Broadway wants pictures of the odd marks around the neck. Where there might have been light-colored tissue the skin is blue-green like a bruise, with clumps of round, black spots.

She and her crew estimate a weight. They cut into the back.

They carve black squares of skin and pink cubes of blubber. Some goes into vials, some is wrapped in aluminum foil. They are careful not to touch anything that will contain the samples.

This one is not fresh, Broadway declares. But they try to sort out and harvest some of the organs. The heart is a bright red.

They don’t take it. It’s not in good enough condition.

Hedge clippers for the jaw bone. Age can be determined by how well the teeth have developed. They bag all the equipment, tie orange tape around the tail and leave the carcass. Two of the others are more than a mile away.

Cross-trained

Broadway’s crew is mixed group.

At the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, workers are cross-trained, so boat captains can volunteer for stranding missions and interns from Australia handle tissue retrieving.

“At IMMS you can do a lot of things,” Broadway says. “It’s not so compartmentalized.”

The second carcass is good enough to take back. It’s small and has just begun to bloat. It is just under 2 feet, 10 inches long.

At that size it is premature, possibly stillborn.

It’s a male.

The crew washes a ruler off in the surf as, 100 yards out, a pod of dolphins surfaces. Broadway doesn’t notice. She stays on task.

The crew catches a lift on an ATV that belongs to the BP oil-cleanup teams. As they ride to the last two infant carcasses, a fellow researcher points out dolphins in the surf.

Crew member Rhiannon Blake, 24, calls out as she sees a pod of bottlenose breaking the water.

“Look, there’s a calf doing aerials,” she says.

“I’m not kidding. It was. Teeny, teeny.”

A tricky process

Dolphins can give birth at the age of 6, but they usually don’t until they are 8 years old. Some females have given birth as old as 48.

Florida researchers have seen that twice. And one dolphin is still alive at the age of 61. They know by the growth rings in her teeth.

They have learned that less than half of the first-born dolphins survive in the wild. The environmental contaminates combine with the fat in the mothers’ milk and transfer to the baby.

That’s the case with many mammals. Or the mothers just don’t have the experience they need to protect a young one.

Second- and third-borns have a better chance, says Randy Wells with the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla.

He is a senior conservation scientist, one of a group that has been studying dolphins in the Sarasota Bay for 40 years.

In 2005, a red tide off the coast killed the dolphins’ fish supply and the next year, calves died in record numbers, unable to catch enough fish to feed themselves.

In 2010, before the BP oil spill, dolphins, turtles and manatees were dying along the coastline in the northern Gulf when the cold winter’s water temperature dropped.

Neither of those scenarios seems to apply to the recent deaths along the Mississippi and Alabama coastlines. There have been no red tides reported nearby and the institute’s crews aren’t finding other species dying from cold water temperatures.

What they’re finding is dead babies in record numbers.

Back at the lab

The preemie Broadway and her crew have brought to the mainland will undergo an necropsy by a veterinarian.

Like the others on the beach, it likely never reached the point of drinking milk and certainly not chasing its own food. Dolphin babies stay with their mothers and nurse until they are in their second year.

On the dock, Broadway’s director stays with reporters answering questions.

He talks about how the findings will be processed, what labs will be looking for -- including hydrocarbons and other chemicals from crude oil.

He talks of the possibility of a virus or an infection making these animals unable to have calves that will survive.

He says it will take time to put together the pieces of this puzzle for answers.

Later, in a telephone interview about how the deaths relate to the oil spill, he says he doesn’t know.

“What do I think?” he says.

“I can’t think. I’m a scientist. I look at the facts. If I start thinking, I become a politician.”

Broadway returns to her office down the hall, before she leaves, hair wet from following a strict decontamination protocol.

By Karen Nelson

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On Gulf Beaches, 5 More Dead Dolphins Discovered, Officials Say
Press Register Article by Ben Raines February 26, 2011

GULF OF MEXICO -- Five more dead dolphins were discovered on Gulf beaches Friday, officials reported, including one found on Dauphin Island, two on Horn Island, one in Pascagoula, and one in Long Beach.

Several of the animals found in Alabama and Mississippi were calves, bringing the total number of dead baby dolphins in the two states to 25, according to the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, based in Gulfport. At press time, a total of 34 dolphins had been found dead in the two states since the beginning of January.

Gulfwide, a total of 53 dolphins have been reported dead so far this year, meaning the majority are from Alabama and Mississippi, which together account for just a small portion of the Gulf shoreline.

The Press-Register surveyed the shorelines of Dauphin Island and Petit Bois Friday and found one dead dolphin near Katrina Cut. It’s gut cavity had been cut open, a sign that researchers had already investigated the animal and collected samples, according to the institute.

Dozens of separate pods of apparently healthy dolphins were seen both in the Gulf and in Mississippi Sound. Many of the groups included female dolphins with their much smaller calves swimming alongside them.

“The dolphins found on Horn Island, we think they just washed up today because there have been people on the island every day who would have seen them. We have no idea how long they were floating before they landed on the island,” said Megan Broadway, a research assistant with the mammal institute.

“We’re entering the season where we have the most strandings annually, but this is an abnormally high amount of strandings this year, especially for calves. It has definitely increased in February.”

The institute is the only organization authorized to respond to dolphin strandings in Alabama and Mississippi.

Ruth Carmichael, a scientist with the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, sent some of her researchers out Friday to search for stranded animals on Dauphin and Petit Bois islands. Carmichael said she has applied for several grants that would provide funding for the Sea Lab to begin its own response effort.

“We have no stranding agreement holder in Alabama,” Carmichael said, referring to the National Stranding Network, a federal program that authorizes groups to respond to stranded or dead dolphins. “We are helping as much as we can, but right now we have to pass everything we find off to people in Mississippi, either the National Marine Fisheries Service or (the mammal institute).”

Carmichael said one of the problems in figuring out what is killing the dolphins is that many of the carcasses are badly decomposed, due in part to delays in getting crews together to inspect them.

“I think we scientists are probably thinking pretty much the same thing everyone else is thinking. Does this have something to do with the oil spill?” Carmichael said. “It is not totally unusual to have these sort of mass mortality events or strandings. But, because this one is happening in the first birthing season after the spill, it certainly raises the question of a connection. And it should.”

In 2007, a similar spate of dolphin deaths occurred in Texas, with more than 60 dead animals discovered, many of them calves. No cause was ever pinpointed.

“If it is not oil, these mass mortality events can happen because of harmful algal blooms, or a disease in the population, or any number of things that may or may not have something to do with people,” Carmichael said.

The non-profit Institute for Marine Mammal Studies is looking for volunteers to help with the response, particularly in Alabama, according to Broadway. She said the group wants people willing to walk sections of different beaches, as well as people who will help respond to reports of stranded or dead dolphins.

The institute also accepts donations. Details on how to volunteer or contribute, and a wish-list of supplies the group needs are available at www.imms.org. To report a dead or stranded dolphin, call 1-888-767-3657

By Ben Raines

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Why Are Dozens of Baby Dolphins Dying?
Head Line News Video February 26, 2011

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Surge in Dolphin Deaths Sparks Concern in Gulf
Today Show Video February 25, 2011

Top of Page

Gulf Spill Investigated as a Cause of Dolphin Deaths
NPR Article by Elizabeth Shogren February 25, 2011

Scientists are trying to determine whether there's a link between last year's Gulf of Mexico oil spill and a spike in dolphin deaths along the Gulf Coast. Sixty-seven bottlenose dolphins have washed up on Gulf beaches over the past few weeks. More than half — 35 — are babies. Researchers are looking at other possible causes, including infectious disease or the abnormally cold winter, but the large numbers of dead calves are particularly unusual and alarming, researchers say.

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 April 20, triggering a massive oil spill. "So, these animals were undergoing development during the height of the oil spill," says Teri Rowles, the top marine mammal scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She says it's very worrisome to see such a large number of marine mammals die. "The oil spill is definitely on our list of potential causes, but we're certainly not ruling in or out any causes at this point," Rowles says.

At least two of the dead calves found over the past few days had what looked like oil on their faces. Mandy Tumlin, the marine mammal coordinator for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, says those calves were discovered by cleanup crews surveying the beach of Grand Terre Island in southeast Louisiana. "We're concerned but we really can't speculate. There's a lot of factors that could play a role in an animal's death," she says. Tumlin doesn't expect to be able to confirm any cause of death until all the samples from the animals come back from labs. Most of the dead dolphin calves were found on the beaches of Alabama and Mississippi. Staff from the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Miss., collected them. "It is very, very strange," says Moby Solangi, the institute's director. "Usually we see one or two calves, but this year it's just a very, very large number."

He says some of the calves were stillborn, some were premature and some died shortly after birth. His staff took samples from the decomposed carcasses and is doing autopsies on the dead dolphins that were still intact. "We're doing a forensic study and we're trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle together," Solangi says. One of Solangi's working theories is that these dolphins' mothers ate fish contaminated with oil from the BP spill, and those contaminants passed through the mothers' bloodstreams to the fetuses.

But there are other possibilities. Researchers are looking for signs of an infectious disease. They'll also investigate whether the unusually cold winter played a role. A toxic algal bloom is another suspect. Even if the oil spill did not directly cause these deaths, it still could be a factor. Veterinary pathologist Greg Bossart, a dolphin expert at the Georgia Aquarium, says researchers are still trying to determine all the ways BP oil affected the Gulf's ecosystem. "When those 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," Bossart says. Experts say since dolphins are at the top of the food chain, they reflect what has happened to their
environment. "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," Bossart adds. Dead dolphins keep washing up day after day. Scientists say they'll investigate every animal they find.

By Elizabeth Shogren

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Scientists Try to Explain Rash of Baby Dolphin Deaths in Gulf
USA Today Article by Dan Vergano February 25, 2011

A rash of baby dolphin deaths in the Gulf of Mexico has worried federal marine scientists, who are trying to come up with theories to explain the mystery.

So far this year, 29 fetal-sized calves have been found dead on the beaches of the northern Gulf. A typical year
sees only two such reports, usually in March, says National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official Teri Rowles. She adds that it's too early to tell whether the deaths are tied to last year's Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Rowles calls the surge of deaths, most likely from stillbirths, "very concerning."

Over the last two decades, federal officials have tracked 51 incidents of "unusual mortality events" in dolphins and manatees, most often tied to "red tide" toxins from coastal algae blooms, which afflict the Gulf of Mexico every
summer. But none in the past has been linked to surges in deaths of dolphin calves. "We don't want to jump to conclusions on what is causing this," says conservation scientist Randall Wells of the Chicago Zoological Society, who heads a NOAA panel on unusual mortality events. "In terms of historical numbers, this does stand out as unusual."

Although the stranded calves appear in varied states of decomposition, all of them died within the last few months. Necropsies of six dead calves are underway at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS) in Gulfport, Miss., which will include tests for toxins linked to oil spill.

"The toxin tests are very important," says Josh Mogerman of the Natural Resources Defense Council environmental group. "The Gulf is a very complicated ecosystem and there are a lot of possible culprits for this, beside the oil spill."

In a typical year, the northern Gulf of Mexico, stretching from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle, sees two such reports of strandings of underdeveloped bottlenose dolphins (ones less than about 40 inches long), as opposed to the 29 reported as of Wednesday. Counting adults, 48 dolphins of all ages have been reported dead on beaches in the region in the last two months.

State and federal fisheries officials are continuing existing programs that monitor dolphin health, looking for signs of trouble, as well as performing water quality tests that have intensified in the Gulf since last year's oil spill. An increase in beached calves appears to have started last year, two months before the April 20 start of the Deepwater Horizon spill, Rowles says, a reason for caution in linking the deaths to the oil. Other factors that have led to past dolphin deaths include red tides, cold weather, decreases in the dolphin food supply and diseases, Wells says.

"Effects can be cumulative, where animals weakened by chemical exposure face cold weather or some long-term trend that leads to sudden losses among their most vulnerable," he said.

Mogerman notes that some toxicologists have warned that chemicals found in crude oil and in the dispersants used to battle the spill have been linked to reproductive effects in mammals such as dolphins.

Investigators will perform toxicology and genetic tests on the dead dolphin calves. Some bottlenose dolphin populations remain year-round in bays and estuaries in the Gulf, while others travel up and down the coast. If genetic testing reveals the dead calves all belong to one stationary group, then investigators will focus their efforts on finding a cause for the increase in deaths there.

By Dan Vergano

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Mississippi Press Article by Harlan Kirgan February 25, 2011

The current spike in bottlenose dolphin deaths is part of an ongoing mortality event that started more than a year ago, but the difference now is the number of babies involved, federal and independent scientists said Thursday.

And, they said the cause of the deaths might not be known for months.

Thirty-one dead dolphins have been found since January in Alabama and Mississippi and 25 of those have been calves, according to the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies.

Two more dead dolphins have been reported on Dauphin Island to the institute in Gulfport, but they had not been confirmed as of Thursday afternoon.

The latest confirmed dead dolphin was a sub-adult found Thursday morning on Singing River Island in Pascagoula, according to Moby Solangi, director of the institute.

Solangi said the cause of the dolphin deaths could be disease, environmental factors and cyclical changes or could be related to the oil spill.

Most dead dolphins have been calves

Blair Mase, coordinator of the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration's Southeast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, said of 48 dolphins found dead since January from the Florida Panhandle to Louisiana, 29 have been calves. Her count did not include the Singing River Island dolphin.

"We are undergoing an unusual mortality that started last January in 2010 and has continued," Mase said. "We had a spike in strandings toward the end of January and the beginning of February in the northern Gulf. Then the increase has pretty much continued throughout the year. We had the oil spill and then this event is occurring."

NOAA's Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response program declares an "unusual mortality event" in the case of unexplained deaths, said Trevor Spradlin, a NOAA marine mammal biologist.

The declaration tightens examination procedures in investigating marine mammal deaths, he said.

"In the case of what is going on in the northern Gulf of Mexico right now we had had an elevated number of strandings prior to the spill," Spradlin said.

"There was already a heightened sense of urgency in February, March, April (2010) with dolphins and then the oil spill happened," he said. "Once the oil spill happened that changed everybody's effort because then people had to get into dealing with the immediate crisis at hand, which was dealing with the oil spill and trying to protect animals."

'Unusual mortality event'

Spradlin said it has not been determined what caused deaths prior to the April 20 BP PLC oil spill.

"We are considering all the mortalities that happened last year and currently as a single unusual mortality event," he said.

"These things take a long time," Spradlin said of the analytical process. "It is also more complicated because of the additional issues surrounding the oil spill.

"We just need to figure out what is going on," he said. "There was something going on prior to the spill We really don't know what and we are trying to figure that out."

Mase said finding out the cause of the dolphin deaths may take awhile and "sometimes we aren't able to determine a cause. It is going to take awhile. Unfortunately, it is not like what you see on TV like CSI. We don't get results in 24 hours. It will be months until any of the results are back."

A prime suspect in the 2010 January spike in deaths was a very cold winter, Mase said.

The number of oil cleanup workers on beaches may be affecting the dead dolphin sightings, she said.

"We are generally experiencing higher stranding rates since the oil spill and a lot of that may include the fact that we have people on these barrier islands that don't usually have people on them in Mississippi and Louisiana," Mase said.

But the dead calves are also showing up on the mainland, she said.

Mase said there was a similar event in 2007 when a number of dolphins, including many calves, were found dead on Texas beaches.

By Harlan Kirgan

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Mississippi Press Article by Harlan Kirgan February 24, 2011

GULFPORT, Mississippi -- Two more dead dolphins have been found on Mississippi and Alabama beaches, bringing the total to 32 that have been discovered since January.

Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, said his teams are being dispatched to Dauphin Island in Alabama and Singing River Island in Mississippi to investigate the sightings. NOAA is joining the probe into the deaths of about two dozen baby dolphins along the Mississippi and Alabama coasts that some experts are
calling unusual.

Trevor Spradlin, a fisheries biologist with NOAA, said this month's rash of dead dolphin calves has been declared an "unusual mortality event," which necessitates strict testing protocols. "You'll see people hustling to make sure the right labs are selected and quality samples collected in a timely manner," he said. Determining what killed the dolphins may take months, he said. "We are dealing with a very unusual mortality," said Solangi. "It is mostly calves. Generally when
you see a stranding it is a variety of animals - adults, males, females, young."

Of 30 dead dolphins found since January, 24 have been babies, Solangi said Wednesday. "We have seen in the last two weeks a big spike in calves," he told The Mississippi Press. "Some are stillborn. Some are premature." Solangi said January and February are not the typical season for dolphins to give birth. "This year, February isn't even over and we have, as of now, 23 that we've handled and they are all calves."

The gestation period for dolphins is 12 months, he said. "So, they would have been conceived in March, April or May of last year and they would have given birth in March, April or May of this
year. Something has happened that these animals are now either aborting or the animals are not fit enough to survive," Solangi said. He said, "It is all the way from Alabama to Mississippi." Solangi said the cause of death could range from infectious disease, environmental factors such as cold water, natural cyclical changes in population or could be directly or indirectly related to the BP PLC oil spill. The baby dolphins found are 2-½ to 3 feet long, he said. Solangi said there have been no reports of unusual fish or turtle kills.

By Harlan Kirgan

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CNN Video by Vivian Kuo February 21, 2011


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Mississippi Press Article by Harlan Kirgan February 24, 2011

GULFPORT, Mississippi -- A worrisome number of dead baby dolphins have been discovered on Mississippi and Alabama beaches this month, said scientists who study the species.

"We are dealing with a very unusual mortality," said Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport. "It is mostly calves. Generally when you see a stranding it is a variety of animals -- adults, males, females, young."

Of 30 dead dolphins found since January, 24 have been babies, according to numbers from the institute.

"We have seen in the last two weeks a big spike in calves," he said. "Some are stillborn. Some are premature."

Solangi said January and February are not the typical season for dolphins to give birth. "This year, February isn't even over and we have, as of now, 23 that we've handled and they are all calves."

The gestation period for dolphins is 12 months, he said. "So, they would have been conceived in March, April or May of last year and they would have given birth in March, April or May of this year. Something has happened that these animals are now either aborting or the animals are not fit enough to survive," Solangi said.

He said, "It is all the way from Alabama to Mississippi."

Causes of death unknown

Necropsies, an examination of the dead dolphins, have been done on some of the animals, but the results will likely take weeks or months to be fully known, said Megan Broadway, a research assistant at the institute.

Solangi said, "In the 20 years of data that I've kept and the 30 years of my history, I have not seen these calves dying in these numbers in these two months of January and February."

There are 3,000 to 5,000 dolphins in the waters off Mississippi and Alabama, he said.

"They are at the top of the food chain," Solangi said. "They are the biological indicator of the environment. If they are healthy, the environment is healthy."

The cause of death could range from infectious disease, environmental factors such as cold water, natural cyclical changes in population or could be directly or indirectly related to the BP PLC oil spill, he said.

Dolphins are capable of moving out of unfavorable water conditions, he said.

The baby dolphins found are 2½ to 3 feet long, he said.

Solangi said there has been no fish or turtle kills.

William Walker, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, said that his staff is working with Solangi on the dolphin deaths.

"It is normal to get some dead baby dolphins," Walker said. "But this is a significant increase. We don't really know. People ask me if it is about the oil and I tell them, 'It could be.'"

Walker said that some of the dolphins were exposed to oil and it could have affected them. "We'll be able to tell after they do the necropsies," he said.

Walker said he was not aware of any unusual water conditions.

If the dolphins were affected by a red tide, Walker said, "It would have to be a fairly extensive toxic red tide to produce something like this. I hate to speculate. It could be a lot of things."

Possibilities

Another possibility is oil cleanup workers are spotting the dead dolphins.

"It may be a little bit of that," Walker said. "In a normal year, if there were 14 dolphins washing up, even if they stayed there a few weeks, somebody would eventually find their carcasses, their skeletons or their remains."

Stan Kuczaj, a University of Southern Mississippi psychology professor and director of the university's Marine Mammal Behavior and Cognition Laboratory, said the recent deaths are disturbing.

"I think one of the possibilities is there are more people out there doing things especially on the barrier islands who may be noticing these carcasses more than we normally would," he said.

"On the other hand, there are typically people who cruise by the beaches fair regularly and call into IMMS and stranding networks," Kuczaj said.

The examinations of the dead dolphins will determine the cause of death, he said.

"They could have died because the mother was swimming in the oil, consumed affected fish or breathed oil fumes for an extended period of time, but it could have been caused by cold temperatures," he said. "We won't really know why until we get the results of the necropsies," which he said could take weeks or months, depending on the extent of the lab work needed.

By Harlan Kirgan

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Scientists Scrutinize Rise in Baby Dolphin Deaths
Associated Press Article By Janet Mcconnaughey February 24, 2011

NEW ORLEANS — Scientists are trying to figure out what killed 53 bottlenose dolphins — many of them babies — so far this year in the Gulf of Mexico, as five more of their carcasses washed up Thursday in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

It's likely to be months before they get back lab work showing what caused the spontaneous abortions, premature births, deaths shortly after birth and adult deaths said Blair Mase, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's stranding coordinator for the Gulf Coast.

"It's not like CSI where the very next day they have the results in. It doesn't work that way, unfortunately," she said.

Calves and fetuses made up at least 85 percent of the deaths in Alabama, 60 percent or more of those in Mississippi and Florida and 20 percent in Louisiana, according to NOAA figures.

The Mississippi and Alabama deaths are in areas where bottlenose dolphins go to calve, said Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport.

Solangi said he'd never seen anything like the calf deaths, or found word of anything like it in 30 years of records from his area — Alabama, Mississippi and east Louisiana.

However, Mase said 68 dolphins that washed up in east Texas in March 2007 also included an unusually large number of calves. The bodies were too decomposed to find the cause, she said.

Although scientists are investigating whether the deaths are related to last year's huge BP oil spill, they say toxins from oil or chemicals used to disperse it are considered a less likely cause than cold or disease. That's because only one species of dolphin — and no other kind of animal — is dying, and because the calf deaths appear concentrated in Mississippi and Alabama rather than Gulf-wide.

The dolphins found Thursday include three off Louisiana and one each off Mississippi and Alabama, NOAA spokeswoman Kim Amendola said. The bodies had not been retrieved, so ages and sizes were not known, she said.

Since Jan. 1, 19 dead dolphins have been found off Louisiana, 16 off Mississippi, 15 in Alabama and three in the Florida Panhandle. Mississippi and Alabama usually each see two to four dolphin strandings a month at this time of year, Mase said.

Solangi said only six of the 23 calves found by Wednesday in Mississippi and Alabama were in good enough condition for a necropsy, the animal version of an autopsy.

"We've collected tissues and sent them off to various laboratories for pathology and toxicology," he said. "All we can tell is some of them may have been premature, some of them were stillborn and others may have just survived for a day or two and died."

Dolphins usually calve in March and April, he said.

Mase said dolphin stranding reports have been unusually high since January 2010. Last winter's deaths probably were caused by extreme cold, she said. "It was a very, very cold winter last year. We had a lot of turtle mortality, manatee mortality and dolphin mortality."

The Deepwater Horizon exploded into flames on April 20 and sank four days later. The spill response brought crews out to look for oiled wildlife and to clean the remote areas where most strandings occur, Mase said.

Because those areas are remote, there's no way to know the true numbers of dolphin strandings and deaths. "The number is not absolute — just a kind of barometer," Mase said.

By Janet Mcconnaughey

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St. Petersburg Times Article by Craig Pittman February 24, 2011

Usually, a few dead dolphins wash ashore along gulf beaches in the first few months of the year. Some are killed by Red Tide or other toxic algae blooms, some by diseases, some by cold.

But this year something different is happening. Since Jan. 1, a total of 48 dead bottlenose dolphins have washed up on the beaches of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida's Panhandle.

Most of them — 29, which includes two of the three found in Florida — were either newborn, miscarried or stillborn calves. There were reports of five more washing ashore Thursday, but scientists had not yet verified them or added them to the official count.

The suspicion is that somehow the oil or chemical dispersants from last summer's Deepwater Horizon disaster killed them. Activists from the National Wildlife Federation and other groups blogging about the deaths and posting items on Twitter have linked the spike in deaths to the oil spill. ABC and CNN have jumped on the story.

However, the culprit could turn out to be something else, scientists say.

"We shouldn't jump to conclusions," cautioned Randy Wells, a Mote Marine Laboratory scientist who has spent nearly 40 years studying dolphins.

Tests of the carcasses to pinpoint the cause will likely take months, said Blair Mase of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is overseeing the investigation.

Still, everyone acknowledges that the wave of dead dolphins signals something out of the ordinary has been going on in the Gulf of Mexico.

"What's unusual is that there are so many and so many of them are so young," said Mays, who is in charge of NOAA's marine mammal stranding network for southeastern states.

The gestation period for dolphins is between 11 and 12 months. That means dolphins dying now were likely conceived prior to the April 20 rig explosion off the Louisiana coast.

They were in the early stages of development during the time the 4.9 million barrels of oil was gushing into the gulf, and BP was spraying some 771,000 gallons of chemical dispersant on the flow.

Although federal officials and BP have scaled back the ongoing cleanup, Louisiana officials say they're still seeing oil washing ashore on their coast.

A recent study of the area around the spill by University of Georgia scientist Samantha Joye found dead corals, crabs and sea stars scattered on the sea floor, along with strings of bacterial slime that created what she called an "invertebrate graveyard."

Still, Mase said that many things can lead to animal deaths in the gulf. "Since 1990 we have had 13 unusual mortality events in the Gulf of Mexico...So the oil spill is one of the things we're looking into."

There are arguments to be made against some of those other possible causes, though.

If the dolphins were killed by the winter cold, other species would likely be affected as well, said Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, which has collected a majority of the dolphin carcasses, all of them from a 130-mile stretch of beach in Alabama and Mississippi.

So far, though, all Solangi's staff has been finding have been very young dolphins.

"The usual thing with strandings is that we see a mix of old and young dolphins," Solangi said. "But these all appear to be stillborn or they survived just a day or two before dying."

A Red Tide bloom hasn't been reported in the northern gulf, so that seems unlikely as a cause too. That still leaves bacterial or viral infections, among other possibilities.

Steve Shippe of the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge in Fort Walton Beach led the group that picked up the two young dolphins found in the Florida Panhandle — one in Gulf Breeze Jan. 5, one on Pensacola Beach on Jan. 25. Both were either premature births or stillborn, he said.

Although Shippe is studying the oil spill's impact on dolphins, he's reluctant to blame those two on BP. "This is kind of a historical average for our part of the gulf coast,'' he said.

But the large numbers washing ashore on the Alabama and Mississippi beaches could be a sign of something strange at work, he said.

Shippee, Mase and Solangi all pointed out one thing: The season for dolphins to give birth hasn't hit its peak yet. That will begin at the end of February and the beginning of March -- so the tide of dead dolphins may not be over yet.

By Craig Pittman

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Federal Agency Joins Dolphin Death Investigation
Associated Press Article February 24, 2011

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) - Scientists investigating the deaths of about two dozen baby dolphins along the Mississippi and Alabama coasts say it could be months before a cause is determined.

Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, says of the 30 dead dolphins found since January, 24 have been babies.

Solangi tells The Mississippi Press that in the past two weeks there has been spike in the number of baby dolphin deaths.

Meanwhile, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official Trevor Spradlin tells The Sun Herald that the federal agency will join in efforts to speed up the examination of the dead calves.

Information from: The Mississippi Press, http://www.gulflive.com and The Sun Herald, http://www.sunherald.com

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SunHerald Article by Karen Nelson - February 24, 2011

GULFPORT -- NOAA will give high priority to an investigation into the large numbers of baby dolphin deaths along the Mississippi and Alabama coasts, an official told the Sun Herald on Wednesday.

Since the first of the year, 24 stillborn or infant calves have washed ashore in the two states.

What’s happening here falls under the formal designation of an Unusual Mortality Event, which requires special scrutiny by a panel of scientists and experts, and gives high priority to samples collected from the dead calves, said Trevor Spradlin, NOAA’s national coordinator for Unusual Mortality Events.

Because of that, NOAA will also oversee the laboratory testing, dictate what type of tests will be run and ensure samples are fresh and viable, Spradlin said.

When an incident receives a UME designation NOAA raises the level of scrutiny and an investigative team is formed, he said.

The level of urgency will increase. Getting samples processed within 24 hours will be a priority with all eyes on the investigation, he said.

“You’ll see people hustling to make sure the right labs are selected and quality samples collected in a timely manner.”

Having an event reach UME designation is usually a time-consuming process that involves a panel of international scientists looking at whether the marine-mammal deaths meet seven criteria, and historical data confirms the event is not typical.

But because early 2010’s cold weather caused dolphin, manatee and turtle deaths, the process had already been put into motion. Then the BP oil spill hit, instantly making the northern Gulf region a UME, Spradlin said..

So when the calves’ deaths escalated, something Coast researchers are calling an anomaly, they fell under the UME designation and are being given the highest priority, he said.

Of specific concern to local researchers is these stillborn or infant dolphins are dying before the birthing season for bottlenose dolphins gets into full swing in March.

Also, in the first two months of 2009 there was only one calf death reported and in the first two months of 2010 only two.

In the first two months of this year, there have been 24 reported to the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport. The institute has collected tissue samples and conducted necropsies.

The BP oil spill’s timing coincided with early gestation months for dolphins in the northern Gulf.

But scientists caution about jumping to conclusions because a number of factors can cause dolphin deaths.

There have been 13 Unusual Mortality Events in the Gulf since 1990, said Blair Mase, NOAA’s stranding coordinator for this region.

“What’s unusual about this event is that we’re seeing mostly calves,” Mase said Wednesday.

She said NOAA does not know if any of the calves were stillborn, or if they died in the first minutes, hours or days of their lives, when they are most fragile.

The cold winter water temperatures may have contributed, she said.

Mase said from observation and early data collected from the freshest carcasses scientists should be able to determine fairly soon whether the animals were stillborn.

However, it likely will take months to draw a conclusion about the deaths partly because of the long process of determining the right labs to handle tissue samples and what tests will need to be run.

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USM Professor: Variety of Factors Possible in Baby Dolphin Deaths
Hattiesburg American Article February 23, 2011

A variety of factors could have lead to the death of dolphin calves that recently washed up on the Mississippi shore, says a University of Southern Mississippi professor who conducts research on dolphins.

Stan Kuczaj, a Southern Miss psychology professor and director of the university’s Marine Mammal Behavior and Cognition Laboratory, said today’s report of more dolphin calves found on the Mississippi and Alabama coastlines is disturbingly high.

Nearly 20 have been reported so far this year along the Gulf Coast.

“We may see two or three wash up on shore by this each year, so this is well above normal. And those are just the ones we’ve found on the beach,” he said. A research team from the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies is investigating the situation.

Kuczaj and his graduate students have conducted more than 20 years of cognition and communication research on the popular marine mammal including in the Mississippi Sound and off the coast of Honduras.

He has also worked with faculty in the Southern Miss Department of Biology in studying dolphins.

Speculation on the cause of the deaths center on the impact of last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Kuczaj says that is a possibility, but is only one potential cause.

“They could have died because the mother was swimming in the oil, consumed affected fish or breathed oil fumes for an extended period of time, but it could have been caused by cold temperatures,” he said. “We won’t really know why until we get the results of the necropsies (autopsies),” which he said could take weeks or months, depending on the extent of the lab work needed.

Kuczaj’s dolphin research has received support from the Office of Naval Research and the U.S. Department of Commerce, and has been featured on the science television show NOVA and on Japanese Public Television.

His research in Honduras began five years ago through a study abroad program near Utila, sponsored by Southern Miss International Education. The journal Marine Mammal Science published research that his team conducted in examining the mammal’s habitat off the Mississippi Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina.

For more information on the Southern Miss Marine Mammal Behavior and Cognition Laboratory, online visit http://www.usm.edu/psy-kuczaj/.

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Dolphin Deaths to Get Government's Highest Scrutiny
SunHerald Article by Karen Nelson February 23, 2011

GULFPORT -- The infant dolphin deaths along the Mississippi and Alabama coasts this month will receive the highest scrutiny, a NOAA official told the Sun Herald today.

Because of an incident in early 2010 and then the BP crude-oil spill, the northern Gulf is considered an Unusual Mortality Event, a designation that will cover the recent rash of infant dolphin deaths.

Top scientists will be looking at the issue and the data collected from what is now 24 stillborn or infant dolphins washed ashore in the two states before the birthing season even gets into full swing.

However, results from tests could take months.

By Karen Nelson

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Baby Dolphins Dying Along Oil-Soaked U.S. Coast
AFP Article February 23, 2011

Baby dolphins are washing up dead along the US Gulf Coast at more than 10 times the normal rate in the first birthing season since the BP disaster, researchers said. Some 17 baby dolphin corpses have been found along the shorelines of Alabama and Mississippi in the past two weeks, The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies said.
"The average is one or two a month. This year we have 17, and February isn't even over yet," said Dr Moby Solangi, director of the Gulfport, Mississippi-based institute. "For some reason, they've started aborting or they were dead before they were born." Dr Solangi is awaiting results from a necropsy performed on two of the dolphins to determine a cause of death.
But he called the high numbers an anomaly and said the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which unleashed millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over three months, likely played a role. Adult dolphin deaths tripled last year to 89 from a norm of about 30. "We shouldn't really jump to any conclusions until we get some results," Dr Solangi said. "But this is more than just a coincidence."
Dolphins breed in the spring - around the time of the April 20 explosion that brought down the BP-leased drilling rig - and
carry their young for 11 to 12 months. Birthing season goes into full swing in March and April. The oil from the spill spread through the water column in massive underwater plumes and also worked its way into the bays and shallow waters where dolphins breed and give birth.

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Dead Dolphins in Gulf: Scientists Seek Explanation
Associated Press Article February 23, 2011

Scientists say five dead baby dolphins have been found on two islands in the northern Gulf of Mexico, adding to what they say is an unusually high tally of dead dolphins in recent months off Mississippi and Alabama.

Researchers say they're seeking clues as to what caused the deaths. They report that 28 dolphins of all ages have been found dead in waters off the two states since the start of 2011, compared with 89 dead dolphins in all of 2010.

Moby Solangi, director of the nonprofit Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, says scientists have taken tissue samples in hopes of solving the mystery.

But scientists say they've ruled out possible effects from last summer's enormous oil rig spill off Louisiana.

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Trying to Find Out What is Going On Here
SunHerald Article by Karen Nelson - February 23, 2011

GULFPORT -- Four baby dolphins lay dead in the sand on the south side of Horn Island and one on Ono Island off Orange Beach, Ala., Tuesday.

That’s more dolphins dead in one day than all the dolphins, of any age, found dead in Alabama in 2008.

And those that are washing up this week along the shores of Mississippi and Alabama are all babies, either stillborn or very young. The total is 19 calves from mid-January to present, nine of those in just the last 10 days.

“With some, we’re not sure if they actually took a breath,” said Dr. Delphine Shannon. Shannon handles strandings for the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, the agency that collects data on dolphins and sends daily reports to NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries division.

This is all happening early in the birthing season, which gets into full swing in March. The early deaths indicate something is wrong, said Moby Solangi, director of the institute.

With the Coast living in the shadow of the BP oil spill, the deaths bring an acute awareness to the situation. But scientists aren’t laying any blame until test results come back, and tissue samples haven’t even been sent to a laboratory yet.

The spike in infant dolphin deaths has the attention of both NOAA and the state Department of Marine Resources.

“Our antennas are up,” Solangi said. “I believe we’re going to see a correlation with something. This is too big a shift.”

So far, four calves in January and 15 in February have been found dead along Mississippi and Alabama shores.

Compare that with the two years before the oil spill, when one death each was reported in Mississippi -- both in February.

The numbers for carcasses of all ages of dolphins found in the two states by year, according to Solangi and Marine Fisheries data, is 29 in 2006, 13 in 2007, 21 in 2008 and 45 in 2009. Then 89 were reported in 2010, and 28 in just the first two months of this year.

Blair Mase, NOAA’s stranding coordinator for the region, said her agency is watching the situation and comparing previous years’ data, “trying to find out what’s going on here.”

“We’re trying to determine if we do in fact have stillbirths,” Mase said.

The BP oil spill spewed more than 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf during dolphin mating season in 2010 and through months of the early gestation period, which is about a year. Thousands of gallons of dispersant was used to break the oil into droplets and suspend it in the water column.

But scientists are not jumping to conclusions.

Solangi’s crews have collected skin, blubber, muscle and organ tissue from six to eight of the calf carcasses that were fresh enough for good test results.

Solangi said he was hoping to coordinate with government agencies and select the best labs for very specific testing.

Some will be university labs, others will not. They will be testing skin samples for genetics and DNA, the blubber layers for heavy metals, and organs and muscle layers.

Tissue will be tested for hydrocarbons, insecticides and pesticides as well.

“We normally don’t do such broad testing,” Solangi said. He said he hopes the federal government will pick up the tab.

On Tuesday, only one of the calf carcasses that washed ashore on Horn Island was in good enough condition to bring back for a necropsy, which is an animal autopsy. It was a little male that had been dead for only a day or two and had just begun to bloat.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Megan Boldenow had reported all four on the island while doing her daily beach walks and bird surveys. Her job is to oversee BP oil-recovery workers as they sift the sand on Horn Island for tar and oil residue.

Three of the calf carcasses were badly decomposed. They were left on the beach after a team of four from the institute took tissue samples, photographed the bodies and tagged them.

Boldenow wondered if the high number of baby carcasses reported might have something to do with more eyes being on the beaches since the spill.

The Gulf and the Mississippi Sound is the nursing, breeding and birthing area for the bottlenose dolphin.

Solangi called them a biological indicator in the environment and said when something is wrong in the population, being at the top of the marine food chain, it could be a warning sign. The young are the most vulnerable, he said.

Bill Walker, head of the Mississippi’s DMR said this week, “Yes, something’s going on …. For some reason it looks like the mothers are aborting these youngsters before they can survive”.

Of course the culprit could be a number of things or a combination of things, including biotoxins, water temperature, infections and feeding patterns, scientists have said.

“I’m just trying to stay abreast of this,” Walker said. “Could be environmental. Could be anything.

By Karen Nelson


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Dozens of Baby Dolphins Wash Up Dead
Article by Mirror.co.uk Feburary 23, 2011

Baby dolphins recovered from the beaches of Mississippi and Alabama are being examined by staff and volunteers from the Insitute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport.

Scientists at the institute are carrying out tests on the marine mammals in attempt to find the cause of their deaths. 

Reports say it is too early to tell if there is a connection between the deaths and last year's BP oil spill, which happened during the dolphin's breeding season.

The dolphin deaths are the latest in a series of mass animal deaths from around the world.

Earlier this year thousands of fish washed up dead in Chicago harbour, 200 American Coots dropped dead from the sky in Texas, while in Brazil scientists were left baffled by the discovery of 100 tons of sardines, catfish and croaker which washed up dead near Parangua.

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Are Dolphins the Next Endangered Species
Times Square Chronicles Article by Suzanna Bowling February 22, 2011

Dolphins are dying, baby dolphins, some barely three feet in length. They are washing up along the Mississippi and Alabama coastlines at ten times the normal rate of stillborn and infant deaths. So far seventeen have either aborted before they reached maturity or die soon after birth. They are collecting along the shorelines.

The Institute of Marine Mammal Studies performed necropsies, animal autopsies, on two of the babies. Moby Solangi, Director of the Institute, called the high number of deaths an anomaly and stated that it was significant, especially in light of the BP oil spill throughout the spring and summer last year when millions of barrels of crude oil containing toxins and carcinogens spewed into the Gulf of Mexico.

Oil worked its way into the Mississippi and Chandeleur sounds where dolphins breed and give birth.

This is the first birthing season for dolphins since the spill.

Dolphins breed in the spring and carry their young for 11 to 12 months. “For some reason, they’ve started aborting or died before birth,” Solangi said. “The average is one or two a month. This year we have seventeen and February isn’t even over yet.”

Deaths in the adult dolphin population rose in the year of the oil spill from a norm of about 30 to 89.

In Mexico, BP says the Gulf of Mexico will recover from the oil spill by 2012, but a scientist from the American Association for the Advancement of Science doesn’t think so. Marine life was “devastated” by the spill. In some places, there is a layer 10 centimeters thick of dead animals and oil. The layer was deposited between June and September 2010 and there’s no sign of sea life on the ocean floor.

Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia surveyed 2,600 square miles of sea floor. She estimated that the amount of methane gas released into the water is the equivalent of about 1.5 and 3 million barrels of oil.

To quote Joni Mitchell:

Don't it always seem to go

That you don't know what you've got

Till it's gone.

By Suzanna Bowling

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4 Dead Baby Dolphins Found on Horn Island
WLOX Report by Steve Phillips February 22, 2011


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Associated Press Article February 22, 2011

GULFPORT, Miss. — Marine biologists are reporting that some baby dolphins, some barely three feet in length, are washing up along the Mississippi and Alabama.

Researchers tell The Sun Herald that 17 young dolphins, either aborted before they reached maturity or dead soon after birth, have been collected on the coasts of the states in the past two weeks — both on the barrier islands and mainland beaches. They said that is about 10 times the normal number for the first two months of the year.

Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, said it's too early to tell why they died.

"For some reason, they've started aborting or they were dead before they were born," Solangi said. "The average is one or two a month. This year we have 17 and February isn't even over yet."

The institute has collected 13 infant dolphins in the last two weeks and three more on Monday along the Gulfport and Horn Island beaches.

Bill Walker, head of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources said his teams will work with the institute to collect the bodies of infant dolphins on Horn Island.

"Something is amiss," Walker said Monday. "It could be oil-related. Who knows? Some of these mothers were probably exposed to oil. Whether it rendered them unable to carry their calves, we just don't know."

When a dolphin is born, its mother has the job of making sure it gets to the surface for its first breath of air.

If the baby is dead, the mother still tries. Over and over, sometimes for hours. She stays with the baby, not realizing fully that it is dead. She will hit it with her tail, grasp it, pull it and nudge it gently, hoping to get it to breathe.

"The more desperate the animal gets when the calf is not breathing, the more intense her behavior becomes," Solangi said. "I've watched it."

That's why some of the dead dolphin infants identified in the last two weeks have trauma to their bodies, he said.

"They didn't die by being hit," Solangi said.

The institute performed necropsies, animal autopsies, on two of them Monday and have data collected from the other bodies in the past two weeks.

Solangi called the high number of deaths significant, especially in light of the BP oil spill throughout the spring and summer last year when millions of barrels of crude oil containing toxins and carcinogens spewed into the Gulf of Mexico.

Oil worked its way into the Mississippi and Chandeleur sounds and other bays and shallow waters where dolphins breed and give birth.

Dolphins breed in the spring and carry their young for 11 to 12 months, Solangi said.

Typically in January and February, there are one or two baby dolphins per month found dead in Mississippi and Alabama, then the birthing season goes into full swing in March.

Deaths for the adult dolphin population in the area rose in the year of the oil spill from a norm of about 30 to 89, Solangi said.

Solangi is gathering tissue and organs for a thorough forensic study of the deaths and is cautious about drawing conclusions until the data from the research is in, probably within a couple of weeks.

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21 Dead Dolphins Found Along Gulf Coast
Fox 8 News Report February 22, 2011


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Baby Dolphin Deaths Puzzling
SunHerald Article by Karen Nelson - February 22, 2011

GULFPORT — The industry's leading scientist on marine mammal strandings is concerned about the deaths of baby dolphins.

Blair Mase, NOAA's marine mammal stranding coordinator for the Southeast region, confirmed the number of baby dolphin deaths is high.

She said the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies reports all its findings to her.

So far this calving season, 17 infant dolphins have been stillborn or died shortly after birth.

"We're definitely keeping a close eye on this situation," Mase said. "We're comparing this to previous years, trying to find out what's going on here."

She said this is the time of the year she sees death in young dolphins, because it is the beginning of the birthing season. But really, the normal birthing season is a little later in the year, she said. "We're trying to determine if we do in fact have still births."

There are more in Mississippi than in Alabama and Louisiana.

"With the oil spill, it is difficult," she said. "We're trying to determine what's causing this. It could be infectious related. Or it could be noninfection.

"We run the gamut of causes," she said, including human impact, which would include the oil spill; infectious disease and bio-toxins.

The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport has been conducting necropsies on the baby dolphins and sharing the findings with Mase.

The young dolphins have been collected on the coasts of the states in the past two weeks, both on the barrier islands and mainland beaches.

This is the first birthing season for dolphins since the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico; however, IMMS director Moby Solangi said it's too early to tell why they died.

"For some reason, they've started aborting or they were dead before they were born," Solangi said. "The average is one or two a month. This year we have 17 and February isn't even over yet."

It's the most Solangi has seen in the two states and he's been watching the Gulf for 30 years, recording dolphin data in Mississippi for 20. The institute has collected 13 infant dolphins in the last two weeks and three more on Monday along the Gulfport and Horn Island beaches.

Bill Walker, head of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, said his teams will work with the institute to collect the bodies on Horn Island.

"Something is amiss," Walker said Monday. "It could be oil-related. Who knows? Some of these mothers were probably exposed to oil. Whether it rendered them unable to carry their calves, we just don't know."

The institute performed necropsies, animal autopsies, on two Monday and will have data collected from the other bodies in the past two weeks.

Solangi called the high number of deaths an anomaly and said it is significant, especially in light of the BP oil spill throughout the spring and summer last year when millions of barrels of crude oil containing toxins and carcinogens spewed into the Gulf of Mexico.

Oil worked its way into the Mississippi and Chandeleur sounds and other bays and shallow waters where dolphins breed and give birth.

Dolphins breed in the spring and carry their young for 11 to 12 months, Solangi said.

Typically in January and February, there are one or two baby dolphins per month found dead in Mississippi and Alabama, then the birthing season goes into full swing in March.

Deaths for the adult dolphin population in the area rose in the year of the oil spill from a norm of about 30 to 89, Solangi said.

By Karen Nelson

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Baby Dolphin Deaths Rise Along the Gulf Coast
Reuters Article by Leigh Coleman February 22, 2011

Marine scientists are examining the deaths of 26 baby dolphins whose carcasses have washed ashore along the U.S. Gulf Coast this year, the bulk of them since last week, researchers said on Tuesday.

The alarmingly high number of dead young dolphins are being looked at as possible casualties of oil that fouled the Gulf of Mexico after a BP drilling platform exploded in April 2010, killing 11 workers and rupturing a wellhead on the sea floor.

An estimated 5 million barrels (205.8 million gallons) of oil spilled into the Gulf over more than three months.

The bodies of 26 infant and stillborn dolphins have been discovered since January 20, on islands, in marshes and on beaches along 200 miles of coastline from Louisiana east across Mississippi to Gulf Shores, Alabama, officials said.

"When the world sees something like baby dolphins washing up on shore, it pulls at the heartstrings, and we all want to know why," said Blair Mase, marine mammal strandings coordinator for the Southeast region of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That tally is more than 10 times the number normally found washed up along those states during this time of the year, which is calving season for some 2,000 to 5,000 dolphins in the region, said Moby Solangi, director of the Institute of Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport.

"It's an anomaly," he told Reuters by telephone, explaining that the gestation period for dolphins runs 11 or 12 months, meaning that calves born now would have been conceived at least two months before the oil spill began.

Steve Tellis, a local environmental activist and member of the Nature Conservancy in Mississippi, called the discoveries "horrific."

Most of the carcasses, measuring just over 3 feet in length, were found during the past week, the bulk of them washing up in Mississippi and Alabama.

The remains of about 10 adult dolphins, none of them pregnant females, have also been found so far this year.

BP cleanup crews found some of the carcasses. Others were discovered by park rangers, police and passersby.

"What makes this so odd is that the dolphins were spread out over such a large area," Solangi said.

Dolphins encountering oil on the surface of the water would face serious health consequences, Solangi said.

"We take short breaths. These animals take a huge breath at one time and hold it. And when they take it, the fumes stay in the lungs for a long period of time and they cause two types of damage, one of which is immediate to the tissue itself. Second, the hydrocarbons enter the bloodstream," he said.

None of the carcasses bore any obvious outward signs of oil contamination. But Solangi said necropsies, the equivalent of human autopsies, were being performed and tissue samples taken to determine if toxic chemicals from the oil spill may have been a factor in the deaths.

Documented mortality in the adult dolphin population off the Gulf Coast roughly tripled from normal numbers last year, climbing from about 30 typically reported in a given year to 89 in 2010, Solangi said.

(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Peter Bohan and Greg McCune)

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Baby Dolphin Deaths Spike on Gulf Coast
SunHerald Article by Karen Nelson - February 21, 2011

GULFPORT, Miss. - Baby dolphins, some barely 3 feet in length, are washing up along the Mississippi and Alabama coasts at 10 times the normal rate of stillborn and infant deaths, researchers are finding.

The Sun Herald has learned that 17 young dolphins, either aborted before they reached maturity or dead soon after birth, have been collected along the shorelines.

The Institute of Marine Mammal Studies performed necropsies, animal autopsies, on two of the babies Monday.

Moby Solangi, director of the institute, called the high number of deaths an anomaly and told the Sun Herald that it was significant, especially in light of the BP oil spill throughout the spring and summer last year when millions of barrels of crude oil containing toxicants and carcinogens spewed into the Gulf of Mexico.

Oil worked its way into the Mississippi and Chandeleur sounds and other bays and shallow waters where dolphins breed and give birth.

This is the first birthing season for dolphins since the spill.

Dolphins breed in the spring and carry their young for 11 to 12 months, Solangi said.

Typically in January and February, there are one or two babies per month found in Mississippi and Alabama, then the birthing season goes into full swing in March and April.

"For some reason, they've started aborting or they were dead before they were born," Solangi said. "The average is one or two a month. This year we have 17, and February isn't even over yet."

Deaths in the adult dolphin population rose in the year of the oil spill from a norm of about 30 to 89, Solangi said.

Solangi is gathering tissue and organs for a forensic study of the infant deaths and is cautious about drawing conclusions until the data is in, probably within a couple of weeks.

"We shouldn't really jump to any conclusions until we get some results," Solangi said. "But this is more than just a coincidence."

The institute told the Sun Herald that it had collected 14 infant dolphins in the past two weeks and three in Mississippi on Monday.

 

Article by Karen Nelson


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