There’s a Dolphin Baby Bust in the Gulf of Mexico and It’s Concerning

The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is still having devastating effects, even six years later.

A new study found that dolphins in the Gulf aren’t able to have as many babies because of the 2010 BP oil spill, also known as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The study also found that this impact could last for generations.

Researchers examined bottlenose dolphins in a previously contaminated area and found that only 20% of them produced viable calves. These dolphins were from Louisiana’s Barataria Bay, while other dolphins from Florida’s Sarasota Bay were found to have a pregnancy success rate of 83%, according to another study.

Furthermore, the Barataria Bay dolphins experienced lower longevity, with a survival rate of just 87% versus 96% in a similar bottlenose population. Other dolphin populations in the Gulf are suffering similarly, including those in the Mississippi Sound.

Executive director of the National Marine Mammal Foundation and the study’s co-author Cynthia Smith told TakePart:

“We are very concerned about the high rate of reproductive failures among Barataria Bay dolphins, as recovery of the population depends on successful reproduction. Barataria Bay dolphins were more likely to be underweight, have moderate-severe lung disease, and have an impaired stress response. Any one of these conditions could put a pregnancy at risk, as well as make it difficult to care for a newborn.”

Photo by Jason Pratt / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Jason Pratt / CC BY 2.0

The BP oil spill was the worst marine oil spill in U.S. history with around 4.9 million barrels of oil spilling into the Gulf. Dolphins and other marine creatures were exposed to oil by ingestion, absorption through the skin and inhalation.

In February, a government-funded study showed that since 2010, 1,305 dolphins were discovered stranded on Gulf shores and 94% of them were found dead – this represents the longest marine mammal Gulf die-off ever.

The study’s authors wrote:

“Whether the observed reproductive failures are directly related to oil exposure or indirectly related to the oil through a cascade of other health impacts to the adult females, cannot currently be determined. However, given the documented poor health of Barataria Bay dolphins…it is unsurprising to find impacts on reproduction as well.”

If history is any indication of what’s to come, the long-term effects of the BP spill could be disastrous. We could see drastic declines in the populations of dolphins – and other species too – without recovery for decades.

 
 
Featured image by sheilapic76 / CC BY 2.0

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