Group: Dolphin, turtle deaths a sign of sick Gulf

Group: continuing dolphin deaths show Gulf of Mexico still feeling effects of 2010 oil spill

Associated Press
FILE - In this April 21, 2010 file aerial photo taken in the Gulf of Mexico more than 50 miles southeast of Venice on Louisiana's tip, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig is seen burning. New research shows that the BP oil spill left an oily “bathub ring” on the seafloor that’s about the size of Rhode Island. The study by David Valentine, the chief scientist on the federal damage assessment research ships, estimates that about 10 million gallons of oil coagulated on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico around the damaged Deepwater Horizons oil rig. Valentine said the spill left even bigger deeper oil splotches besides the ring. The rig blew on April 20, 2010 and spewed 172 million gallons of oil into the Gulf through the summer. Scientists are still trying to figure where all the oil went and what it did to the Gulf. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)
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FILE - In this April 21, 2010 file aerial photo taken in the Gulf of Mexico more than 50 miles southeast of Venice on Louisiana's tip, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig is seen burning. New research shows that the BP oil spill left an oily “bathub ring” on the seafloor that’s about the size of Rhode Island. The study by David Valentine, the chief scientist on the federal damage assessment research ships, estimates that about 10 million gallons of oil coagulated on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico around the damaged Deepwater Horizons oil rig. Valentine said the spill left even bigger deeper oil splotches besides the ring. The rig blew on April 20, 2010 and spewed 172 million gallons of oil into the Gulf through the summer. Scientists are still trying to figure where all the oil went and what it did to the Gulf. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Continuing deaths of dolphins and sea turtles are a sign that the Gulf of Mexico is still feeling effects from the 2010 spill that spewed 200 million gallons of oil from a well a mile below the surface, a prominent environmental group said Tuesday.

The deaths — especially in dolphins, which are at the top of the food chain — are "a strong indication that there is something amiss with the Gulf ecosystem," said National Wildlife Federation senior scientist Doug Inkley.

"Both species have very high mortality the first year, slightly lower the second year and the third year even lower, but still well above average," Inkley said. "To have these deaths above average for so long a period of time is unprecedented."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries service has said previously that many turtles probably drowned in shrimp nets and that brucellosis, a bacterial infection, was the only common thread in the dolphin deaths.

NOAA cannot comment about Inkley's statement because its investigation of the deaths is part of the federal tally of environmental damage for oil spill litigation, spokeswoman Connie Barclay said.

The federation's report, "Restoring a Degraded Gulf of Mexico: Wildlife and Wetlands Three Years into the Gulf Oil Disaster," was based on previously reported research by other scientists, including NOAA's updates on the dolphin and sea turtle strandings.

The key to restoring the Gulf is conserving coastal wetlands, and it's critical to make sure that any fines imposed from the trial now in progress in New Orleans go to that purpose, said Inkley and David Muth, director of the federation's Mississippi River Delta Restoration Program.

The trial will assign a percentage of responsibility among BP PLC and other companies involved in the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion April 20, 2010. It will also decide penalties under both the Clean Water Act and the National Resource Damage Assessment process.

NRDA uses scientific research to assess environmental damage and decide how to fix it. Under the RESTORE Act of 2012, 80 percent of all Clean Water Act fines will go to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Texas.

The federation looked at how coastal wetlands and six species of animals are doing in the Gulf three years after the spill, basing its assessment on historical status and what the future looks like as well as the spill's effect.

It rated the status of coastal wetlands, Atlantic bluefin tuna, and sea turtles as poor; bottlenose dolphins and deep-sea coral as fair; and shrimp and brown pelicans as good.

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