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.”
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.
“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.
All seven species of sea turtles are at risk of extinction. But there is hope for one sub-population in Florida.
In 2015, researchers counted 14,152 turtle nests in the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, the principal green sea turtle nesting habitat in North America. This number broke the previous record of just under 13,000 in 2013 and completely shattered past yearly totals, ranging from slightly below 200 in 2001 to slightly over 6,000 in 2011.
Executive director of the Sea Turtle Conservancy David Godfrey says:
“From any spot on the beach during the peak of nesting, we might just within eyesight see see maybe 10 turtles. And imagine, all these turtles are approaching 300 pounds each…That’s a phenomenon we have not seen before in Florida.”
Green sea turtles lay between 75 and 200 eggs per nest, so this past season may have produced as many as 3 million babies. However, because of all the threats they face, such as hungry gulls and fishing nets, only a fraction of these nestlings will likely survive to maturity.
Fortunately, this should still be enough for future viable nesting seasons. In fact, the 2015 turnout was so significant that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is preparing to downgrade the turtle’s conservation status on the federal list from “endangered” to “threatened.”
The Archie Carr refuge was established in 1990 and since then, the green sea turtle nesting numbers have steadily risen. Lending to this increase are the efforts of conservationists, government officials and residents to reduce pollution and other human effects.
“We’re really seeing the fruits of all that work now with the exponential growth in green turtle nesting. That is what it takes with sea turtles in particular, because they grow so slowly. Those hatchlings from 30 years ago are reaching adulthood and coming back.”
Featured image by Keenan Adams, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region / CC BY 2.0
This insanely cute baby polar bear at the Columbus Zoo is growing up so fast! Watch the video to see her go from one week to almost 3 months old and learning to walk on all fours:
A lot is going wrong in the world of conservation, from the poaching crisis and wildlife trade to deforestation and illegal logging, and beyond. Still, we did see some major victories for animals last year. Here are 3 big wins for wildlife in 2015:
In May, Nepal released numbers that showed the numbers of their endangered one-horned rhinos were up to 675 – a whopping 300 more animals than a decade ago. In August, Thailand destroyed its ivory to join in the fight against poaching elephants and the wildlife trade. And in September, the two largest markets for elephant ivory, U.S. and China, agreed to enact a complete ban on ivory trade.
Chief executive of the Wildlife Conservation Society Cristián Samper told TakePart:
“Two of the most powerful heads of state want an end to all ivory trade. That’s only good news for elephants, and we call upon all governments to follow suit. Once both nations definitively take this action, ivory trafficking will begin to fall, and the number of elephants could rise again.”
A lot happened for for oceans in 2015: in July, the Philippines created its first sanctuary for the declining shark and ray populations. In September, New Zealand banned fishing, oil exploration, mining and other human disturbances in an area of ocean twice the size of the country itself. And in November, the U.S. and Cuba agreed to protect coral reefs and marine wildlife in the 90-miles of ocean between the two countries.
In 2015, we witnessed the tragic killing of Cecil the lion. But that catapulted the poaching issue, and the search for solutions, into the public eye. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to give the African lion endangered species protections. In addition, 45 commercial airlines banned the transportation of hunting trophies from lions, elephants and rhinos in 2015.
SeaWorld has faced a world of backlash since the 2013 documentary Blackfish depicted the problems within the sea-park industry and the sad consequences of enclosing highly intelligent marine mammals in a tank.
After years of protests, the CEO of SeaWorld Joel Manby has announced putting a stop to the controversial theatrical orca shows at its San Diego park. The plan is to phase them by the end of 2016.
The decision to end the orca shows is a direct response to customers, as attendance at the San Diego park dropped 17% last year and continues to drop. Manby said:
“We are listening to our guests, evolving as a company, we are always changing. In 2017 we will launch an all new orca experience focused on natural environment [of whales]. 2016 will be the last year of our theatrical killer whale experience in San Diego.”
In addition, SeaWorld will implement a few more changes, including replacing the shows with a new orca experience that emphasizes a more natural environment for the mammals and an informative, conservation-minded approach that inspires people to act. Manby wants to refocus SeaWorld on the conservation of animals, not their entertainment.
Although the orca shows will continue at SeaWorld’s other parks in San Antonio, Texas and Orlando, Florida, this represents a step in the right direction. Manby’s decision comes days after congressman Adam Schiff said he would introduce legislation to end the captivity of orcas at SeaWorld:
“The evidence is very strong that the psychological and physical harm done to these magnificent animals far outweighs any benefits reaped from their display. We cannot be responsible stewards of our natural environment and propagate messages about the importance of animal welfare when our behaviors do not reflect our principles…The decision by SeaWorld to phase out killer whale shows in San Diego is a welcome step along the path towards ending the captivity of these magnificent creatures. Much more needs to be done, however.”
In an attempt to do more, California Coastal Commission approved a $100 million expansion of the orcas’ tanks in San Diego in October, but attached an amendment that banned captive breeding – including through artificial insemination – and also banned the sale, trade or transfer of captive orcas. The amendment halted the project, which would have tripled the size of existing enclosures.