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Scientists Link Melting Snow to 186 Dolphin Deaths in the Gulf

By Rhonda Miller | Published 19 Jul 2012 07:12pm | comments
Dead dolphin on Mississippi Beach in 2011. Photo by: Laurel Lockamy

Marine researchers say cold water flowing into the Gulf of Mexico may have contributed to the death of baby dolphins.  MPB’s Rhonda Miller has more.

The study released this week by researchers from the University of Southern Mississippi, the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and the University of Central Florida said melting snow pouring into the Gulf in January 2011 may be one factor in the death of 186 dolphins early last year. Chairman of the Southern Miss Marine Science Department Monty Graham is a member of the research team.

"The issue was it was the first birthing season following the oil spill. And so that's why the attention immediately goes to the oil spill. And, of course, we’re not ruling in or ruling out the oil spill. And, in fact, we have other evidence that suggests that things got altered in the food web during the oil spill. Now the question is whether or not that could have carried over to the subsequent winter and spring."

Graham said a combination of stressors, including bacteria, may have weakened the pregnant and newborn dolphins, leaving them unable to swim away from the cold water. He said the team did not do lab research on dolphins, but used available data.

"It’s difficult to get the actual quality control data out of NOAA at this time. But they were  willing to allow us to have access to some of their preliminary data, data that had not yet been quality controlled. And that was a little more accurate and more comprehensive than what we were getting just from news reports and weekly summaries of events."

Most of the research done by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, is being  kept confidential because it will be used in legal action against BP.




Dead dolphin on Mississippi Beach in 2011. Photo by: Laurel Lockamy



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