The study by the the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was performed on 32 dolphins from the bay. It found problems like drastically low weight, low blood sugar and, in some cases, cancer of the liver and lungs. Nearly half also have abnormally low levels of the hormones that help with stress response, metabolism and immune function.
The scientists said that the results could not be conclusively linked to the oil spill at this point, but control groups from areas unaffected by the spill did not show the same symptoms.
NOAA says that dolphin strandings remain abnormally high in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. About 1,000 dolphins live in Barataria Bay, which would see around 20 strandings in a normal year. 180 strandings have been reported since February 2010.
Barataria Bay received heavy and prolonged exposure to oil during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
On Planet Ocean News, Deb Castellana describes a trip to the Bay after the spill:
In one area we found a pod of dolphins poking their noses in the mud looking for morsels of food, only to kick up a nasty rainbow sheen of oil. And when they’d surface to breathe, their blowholes would open, sucking in that same oily sheen. It was the stuff of nightmares. When my respiratory problems became too hard to manage, I went to Florida to recuperate. The dolphins and other creatures of the Gulf were not so lucky.
Joe Smyth from Greenpeace also visited after the spill and wrote:
It gives me a sinking feeling when I think about what it means that seeing dozens of playful dolphins is actually a sign of disaster. It’s the same feeling I get when I think about how nice it would be to cool off in the water – but of course the oil on the ocean surface reminds me why we can’t. What does it mean when you can’t swim in the ocean?
Watch a report of the scientists conducting the study:
Image source: Wikipedia