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  • 1 February 2014, 23:25

BP Oil Spill Linked To Sick Dolphins In Report

Bottlenose dolphins suffering from a catalogue of serious health problems were found swimming in the Gulf of Mexico a year after the BP oil disaster, according to scientists.

Researchers said they had never seen such a high prevalence of sick animals, with conditions ranging from missing teeth and lung disease through to pneumonia and abnormal hormone levels.

The findings were reported in the first major study of dolphin health undertaken in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and led to the nation's worst offshore oil spill.

Millions of gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico while BP scrambled for weeks to seal the well.

Half of the 32 dolphins studied off the coast of Louisiana in August 2011 were found to be seriously ill or in danger of dying.

The report's lead author, Dr Lori Schwacke, a researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said: "I've never seen such a high prevalence of very sick animals.

"What we are seeing is consistent with oil exposure."

But BP said the report, which appeared in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, was "inconclusive as to any causation associated with the spill."

The wild dolphins were caught in the central Louisiana waters and held briefly for health checks before being released.

"There is disease in any wild population. We just haven't seen animals that were in such bad shape as what we saw in Barataria Bay," she said.

Their health was compared to 27 bottlenose dolphins in Sarasota Bay, Florida, an area also in the Gulf that was unaffected by the oil spill.

The Barataria Bay dolphins had significantly lower levels of adrenal hormones, which are critical to an animal's stress response.

Moderate to severe lung disease was five-times more common in the Louisiana dolphins than those in in their Florida.

In a company statement, BP said: "Symptoms observed in the study have been seen in other dolphin mortality events that have been related to contaminants and conditions found in the northern Gulf, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), DDT and pesticides."

BP also called on NOAA to release all of its data on the unusual deaths of more than 1,000 dolphins off the Gulf Coast, dating back to February 2010, three months before the spill.

NOAA researchers admitted their study cannot prove the dolphin's health problems were caused by the BP oil spill because there were no studies of dolphin health in that area before the spill.

However, when comparing blubber, the Louisiana dolphins had lower levels of pesticides and flame retardant chemicals than the Florida group, suggesting that agricultural run-off and common pollution were not the cause of their diseases.

Vet Craig Harms, who helped check the dolphin's health, said their symptoms mirrored those seen in lab animals exposed to oil.

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