Marine researchers on the Gulf Coast are baffled by a sudden increase in the number of baby dolphin deaths occuring near Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama coastlines.
According to the SunHerald.com, researchers from the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS) are investigating a total of 28 adult and infant dolphin carcases since the first of the year. Of the 28, 18 were infant dolphins.
On its blog, the National Wildlife Federation states that this is “10 times the normal rate of stillborn and infant deaths.”
Several of the dolphin calves, some barely three feet long, were found near Gulf Islands National Seashore Park by National Resource Advisory employees who are working with BP cleanup crews on the island.
The SunHerald also reports that IMMS has been conducting necropsies on the baby dolphins and sharing the findings with Blair Mase, the NOAA’s marine mammal stranding coordinator for the Southeast region.
Currently, none of the research agencies involved are certain about what might be causing the baby dolphin deaths. This is the beginning of the dolphin birthing season, so it’s the normal time for researchers to see still-births–just not in such high numbers.
In similar instances of mass mortality in other species infection or disease has been the cause, and researchers say these could again be to blame.
Dr. Doug Inkley, the National Wildlife Federation’s senior scientist says it may be hard to ever know for sure what caused the baby dolphin deaths:
“Until necropsies are performed, we won’t know the cause of death, and even then may never know. As we have learned from recent mass mortality events of mallards and blackbirds, they are not all that uncommon and most often the cause is disease. It wouldn’t be surprising for disease to be a factor in this case.
“Another possibility is poor nutritional status of the pregnant females, causing them to abort the young or give birth to weak young. Certainly, the oil spill through exposure to toxics could make the dolphins more vulnerable to disease, or lead to starvation if food sources become scarce. There could also be sublethal effects of the oil on adults that inhibit successful reproduction.”
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Image: Dolphins swim next to oil booms at Petit Bois Island in Mississippi on June 4, 2010
Image Credit: Flickr - deepwaterhorizonresponse