UCF Global Perspectives


BP Blamed for Massive Deaths of Gulf Dolphins

Rafaella Lobo, Alexandra Cousteau Fellow, Environment and Global Climate Change

March 11, 2015

A study published in a peer-reviewed journal, conducted by Stephanie Venn-Watson of the National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego and funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, suggests big oil company BP is responsible for massive die-offs of bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico (LA Times). 1,305 dolphin strandings along the Gulf were analyzed from February 2010 through the present. From these 1,305, 94% ended up dying. Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi exceeded past averages by almost four times, with 2010 and 2011 having the highest mortality rates ever recorded in Louisiana (LA Times, the New York Times). The study divided these unusual amount of deaths into four groups (or “clusters”), indicating there are different causes for all these deaths. One of the groups, in which causes such as unusual cold weather and freshwater intrusion played a role, started before the BP oil spill. The other three groups, however, started after the oil spill, and the geographic location coincides with places that were affected by heavy, ongoing oil contamination.

The company’s website counters the accusations by saying, “The study on the Gulf’s ‘unusual mortality event’ (UME) reiterates what other experts, such as NOAA, have stated: the UME started three months before the Deepwater Horizon spill, and the cause or causes have not been determined” (BP’s “the state of the Gulf”). However, a look at the data reveals the cluster of dolphin strandings that happened before the spill was actually below average, while, with the exception of two locations, all of the above-average events happened after the spill (LA Times). Moreover, the study points at the oil spill as a very likely explanation for the die-offs. It states that the timing and location of at least one of the massive strandings is “consistent with the spatial and temporal distribution of oil to bay, sound, and estuary habitats in that region during and after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill,” and that the dolphins’ conditions were “consistent with adverse health effects that might be expected following oil exposure based upon the literature of documented effects in other animal species.” The study also highlights that the coasts of Florida and Texas, which “experienced little to no oiling” also lack “significant annual, statewide increases in stranded dolphins.”






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