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Screen shot from WKMG - Orlando showing a dead dolphin on the coast next to a screen shot from BP's commercial

Scientists: Dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico Dying 'At an Alarming Rate'

"Unusual Mortality Event" contradicts BP's portrayal of health of Gulf

Common Dreams staff

A recent television commercial from British Petroleum portrays a healthy coast along the Gulf of Mexico. In the commercial, the beaches are clean, the water is clear, the birds are oil-free. BP community outreach figure Iris Cross says that "All beaches and waters are open - for everyone to enjoy."

Dolphins, however, do not seem to be enjoying the waters. Scientists say an unusually high number of dead dolphins have been washing up on the shores. The NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has recorded 630 dolphin strandings since Feb. 1, 2010 from the Texas-Louisiana border to the Florida Panhandle and has called it an "Unusual Mortality Event."

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WWL-TV New Orleans reports on findings from Suzanne Smith of the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and part of the Louisiana Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Rescue Program:

"We're finding, unfortunately, more dead dolphins than we normally would," Smith said. "So, the testing on the necropsies has gotten very strict and we are taking duplicate and triplicate samples on all parts, externally and internally on these animals, to try and find out what is happening out in the wild population."

Since the beginning of the month, 14 marine mammals, including a dozen dolphins, have been found along the northern Gulf of Mexico. Half of the dead dolphins washed up on the Louisiana coast."

Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, indicated to the Mississippi Press that information from one rescued dolphin brought "significant information" about the dolphin deaths, though he is unable to provide more information:

Moby Solangi, director of the institute, said he is not at liberty to talk about details of what has been discovered as the dolphin named "Chance" has been nursed back from the brink of death after being rescued Nov. 24 from near a marsh at Fort Morgan.

"What we can say is it has revealed some significant information," Solangi said.

"Finding this live dolphin was like finding the black box from an airplane after a crash," he said.

Solangi said he is barred by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from discussing details gathered from the dolphin because it's part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

Dan Favre of the Gulf Restoration Network says the blame belongs to the BP spill. He told WWL-TV New Orleans:

"The ongoing death of these dolphins speaks to the idea that we haven't seen all of the impacts from the BP oil drilling disaster end yet." [...]

"I hope we don't see anything more, but I would say we still have a little more time where we're going to be on the edge of our seat in seeing what might actually happen in the future," Favre said.

The NOAA has said that some of the stranded dolphins showed signs of brucella bacteria. The Mississippi Press reports:

NOAA announced in October that brucella bacteria was found in stranded bottlenose dolphins. As of Jan. 5, of 33 dolphins tested, 10 were positive or suspect positive for brucella.

Brucella bacteria are commonly found in marine and land mammals. The bacteria can cause abortion, brain infection, pneumonia, skin infection and bone infection, according to a NOAA fact sheet.

WWLTV - New Orleans adds:

What role, if any, the oil spill may have played with the immune systems of the dead dolphins is still not clear and neither is when the strandings may finally stop.

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