Study: Gulf Oil Spill May Have Given Dolphins Lung Disease

Kathleen Jercich

The environmental devastation caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster is no secret: Among other damages, the explosion and ensuing oil spill stranded thousands of endangered sea turtles, gutted the bluefin tuna population and ruined already vulnerable coastal wetlands. More than three years later, a study by the U.S. government has found even more evidence of lingering damage: The spill, scientists say, may have also contributed to a spike of bottlenose dolphin deaths in the Gulf of Mexico. Researchers found direct evidence of toxic exposure, the Guardian reports: The study, led by scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, found lung disease, hormonal abnormalities and other health effects among dolphins in an area heavily oiled during the BP spill. The diseases found in the dolphins at Barataria Bay in Louisiana—though rare—were consistent with exposure to oil, the scientists said. … "I've never seen such a high prevalence of very sick animals—and with unusual conditions such as the adrenal hormone abnormalities," Lori Schwake, the study's lead author, said in a statement. … Government scientists and conservation groups had been concerned from the outset about the effects on marine life of the vast amounts of oil that entered the water. But Wednesday's study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Technology, produced the strongest evidence to date of the effects of the spill on marine life. "The severe disease documented by this study and the continued elevation of mortalities raise significant concerns regarding both short-term and long-term impacts on the Barataria Bay dolphin population," the study said. Despite the findings, BP continues to argue that the dolphins' illnesses have nothing to do with the spill. A company spokesperson told Guardian that the NOAA had not yet provided BP with any conclusive data demonstrating the connection between oil exposure and poor dolphin health. 

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Kathleen Jercich is an assistant editor at In These Times. Her work has appeared in Sacramento News and Review, BUST Magazine and on The Rumpus and Bitch Media blogs.
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