Barataria Bay Dolphins Exposed to Oil Are Seriously Ill

According to The New York Times, dolphins exposed to the Deepwater Horizon Disaster’s combined effects of crude oil and chemical dispersants,  “are seriously ill.”

In August of 2010, just after the wellhead was capped, I joined The Sea Turtle Restoration Project’s Dr. Chris Pincetich, Captains Al Walker and Terry Palmisano, and Scott Porter of Ecorigs to see how much oil was still in Barataria Bay, in the Mississippi Delta.  We found much more than we expected, with crude oil and sheen seemingly everywhere we checked.

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.

The situation was reported to the authorities, with whom I exchanged a number of frustrating emails. Finally a few months later, they went to the GPS Position I had provided and reported back that the dolphins’ health appeared to be normal. Frustrating for all sides involved I’m sure, and with the government’s gag order on NOAA staff due to pending lawsuits against BP, it’s been a long time with no news.

My friends know how long I raged about the dolphins in Barataria Bay – and elsewhere in the Gulf where the mortality rates have been no less than astounding. Today that anger is back again, the memories of those dolphins are as vivid as if it were yesterday.

In this video, you’ll see the dolphins around 1:13 forward.

New York Times/Environmental Blog


Dolphins in Barataria Bay off Louisiana, which was hit hard by the BP oil spill in 2010, are seriously ill, and their ailments are probably related to toxic substances in the petroleum, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggested on Friday.

As part of an ongoing assessment of damages caused by the three-month spill, which began with an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig, NOAA scientists performed comprehensive physicals last summer on 32 dolphins from the bay. They found problems like drastically low weight, low blood sugar and, in some cases, cancer of the liver and lungs.


Yet the most common symptom among the dolphins, found in about half the group, was an abnormally low level of stress hormones like cortisol. Such hormones regulate many functions in the animal, including the immune system and responses to threats. Scientists said the dearth of hormones suggested that the animals were suffering from adrenal insufficiency.

Lori Schwacke, the lead scientist for the health assessment, said the findings were preliminary and could not be conclusively linked to the oil spill at this point. But she said the exams were also conducted on control groups of dolphins that live along the Atlantic coast and in other areas that were not affected by the 2010 spill and that those dolphins did not manifest those symptoms.

“The findings we have are also consistent with other studies that have looked at the effects of oil exposure in other mammals,” Dr. Schwacke added, citing experimental studies of mink that were dosed with oil. Some of those minks developed adrenal insufficiency.

Strandings of dolphins began rising in states along the Gulf of Mexico in February 2010, or about two months before the oil spill.

But NOAA says that the strandings have returned to normal rates along the Florida coast, which was the farthest from the spill, while remaining abnormally high along the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. In Barataria Bay alone, with a population of about 1,000 dolphins, 180 strandings have been reported since February 2010. In a normal year, about 20 dolphin standings would be reported in all of Louisiana, the agency said.

Ben Sherman, a NOAA spokesman, cautioned against drawing too broad a conclusion about dolphin deaths across the gulf from the findings. He said the results could provide “possible clues” to the effects of the oil spill on other dolphins in the northern Gulf of Mexico. “However, it is too soon to tell how the Barataria Bay findings apply,” he said.

Howard Hall’s Blue Ocean

This holiday season, I’d like to share a video by Howard Hall that epitomizes why we love the ocean so… and why we dive.  The blue whale swim by is one of the most amazing pieces of film I’ve ever seen. Here’s raising a glass to working hard to save our ocean planet and the amazing creatures who share it with us.

Happy Holidays to all!

Whale, Dolphin Deaths Twice Normal in Gulf

Stranded spinner dolphin.: Credit: qnr via Flickr.Stranded spinner dolphin.: Credit: qnr via Flickr. The latest NOAA report on unusual strandings of whales and dolphins in the northern Gulf of Mexico finds they’re still dying at twice the normal rate 18 months after BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Map of strandings in relation to Deepwater Horizon well.: Predicted heat index for Friday, 22 July, 2011. Credit: NOAA.

Map of strandings in relation to Deepwater Horizon well. Credit: NOAA.

As you can see in the map above, the most heavily oiled shoreline still corresponds with the most dead whales and dolphins. Bottlenose dolphins are shown as circles and other species as squares. Premature, stillborn, or neonatal bottlenose dolphins (with actual or estimated lengths of less than 115 cm/45 inches) are shown as a circle with a black dot inside. Pink points mark the most recent week of data. Green points mark are all other cases since 1 January 2011.

All stranded cetaceans (dolphins and whales) from Franklin County, FL to the Texas/ Louisiana border.: Credit: NOAA.

All stranded cetaceans (dolphins and whales) from Franklin County, FL to the Texas/ Louisiana border.: Credit: NOAA.

Here you can see how the numbers of strandings have not yet stabilized or even begun to decline. In some cases they’re still growing. The magenta-colored bars mark strandings per month in the year 2010. The ivory-colored bars mark strandings per month so far this year.

In my Mother Jones article The BP Cover-Up last year, I wrote about the kind of long-term problems the Gulf might face not just from oil but from extreme quantities of oil in very deep water, as well as from chemical dispersant, including dispersant injected into very deep water.

Sadly, it seems that cetaceans—past, present, and future—may be bearing some of those burdens.

Marine Mammal Center Gala – San Francisco

Guest Blogger, Jeff Boehm, Executive Director, Marine Mammal Center

On Friday night, last week, some 350 people came together at the San Francisco Ferry Building to celebrate The Marine Mammal Center, to build new relationships and strengthen existing ones, and to raise money! Oh, and to have a fair amount of well-deserved fun!

With presentations by Washed Ashore artist, Angela Haseltine Pozzi, and Melissa on her team, and our own Dr. Frances Gulland in the VIP reception, inspiring videos, a heartfelt and moving speech by youth volunteer-turned adult, David Krucik and the dynamic auctioneering of the education department’s Doreen Gurrola and Biz Stone…we hit those goals, and made some Gala history for ourselves in the process!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Consider these accomplishments and highlights… We are so thankful to Hewlett Packard, our presenting sponsor, for their tremendous sponsorship of the event—the highest we’ve received yet! For the first time in one of our fund-a-need auctions we received a $10,000 gift! And, this was from an individual who is new to our community! We invited in new co-hosts, Biz and Livia Stone, and through them gained access to a wide array of new friends and supporters. All the while, we enjoyed tremendous food, the beautiful music of the EOS ensemble, and one another’s company.

So many people make events like this a success: a board level committee, our many sponsors and in-kind contributors, the legion of volunteers and staff that lent their smarts, muscle and time to the event, the quality partners who manage the venue (gorgeous and fitting, eh?) and the guests who come to show their support! Central in the planning, was our own Kate Harle, who deserves kudos-a-plenty for the large and daunting task she took on and the event she so well delivered with professionalism and great grace. Thank you, Kate!

Oh, and the tally on raising money to help deliver an enhanced whale bus program to 5,000 school kids in under-served communities…you ask? We met our goal of 60K, and we met the total fund-raising goal of the event (we’re still tallying the final number; it may be more!)

Humpback Whales and more in the Atlantic!

Cape Cod, Massachusetts
2011 July

Special Report from Dr. Bonny Schumaker, On Wings of Care

With special thanks to Jake Levenson from IFAW.

We’re here for the week in Cape Cod, to find humpback whales for scientists who will study, track, and tag some of them with GPS transmitters for further study.  We arrived this afternoon and did a quick reconnaissance flight — and did we ever wish we had had a real camera with us! The rest of the week should be quite exciting, if today was any sign.  In less than one hour, and not even 24 miles from our ‘home’ airport of Plymouth, MA, we spotted at least a dozen humpbacks — typically alone, but in one case there were two adults and a juvenile, and in another case many adults came together to hunt cooperatively by making a “bubble net.” We also saw several Minke whales, one large fin whale, a basking shark, one large leatherback turtle, and several large schools of tuna!  Much of this was within just a few miles of the shores of Provincetown, Cape Cod, in an area of the sea known as Little Stellwagon Basin.

We grabbed our emergency “point-and-shoot” camera from the side pocket of the airplane and snapped a few photos and even one short video, shown below.  We hope to have many more photos and video of much better quality before this week is through! Weather looks good for tomorrow, a bit iffy the next day, so we’re planning a very early morning start.  Stay tuned!
Here is a short video of quite a long show that one humpback whale put on for us, as she or he put a great deal of energy into slapping the water repeatedly with one fin, making noise and waves that travelled for a very long way.