By LESLIE KAUFMAN
23 March 2012

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 in the Gulf of Mexico, 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. […]

Gulf Dolphins Exposed to Oil Are Seriously Ill, Agency Says


A preliminary study of dolphins in Louisiana’s Barataria Bay, an area hit hard by the BP oil spill in 2010, shows the marine mammals overall are in poor health, NOAA researchers said today.

Thirty-two dolphins studied in early August 2011 were underweight, anemic, had low blood sugar, and displayed signs of liver or lung disease, said Lori Schwacke, lead investigator.

About half had low adrenal hormone levels, including the stress hormone, which can cause low blood sugar, weight loss and can lead to death, she said.

In three parishes around Barataria Bay, between February 2010 and March 18, 2012, more than 180 dolphins have been stranded. The BP oil spill occurred in April 2010.

The average annual rate of dolphin strandings for all of Louisiana from 2002 to 2009 is about 20. […]

NOAA study: Barataria Bay dolphins sick

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