On April 20, 2010, BP’s Macondo oil well in the Gulf of Mexico blew out and caused the Deepwater Horizon oil rig to explode, killing 11 crew members. In the ensuing months the well pumped 172 million gallons of oil into the Gulf until it was capped in July 2010. The spill was absolutely catastrophic to the economy and Gulf ecosystem. This week we are learning that the oil spill is responsible for a record number of dolphin deaths in the region.
In a study published in online peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE, Wednesday, by federal scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, scientists found that the only explanation for an obscene number of bottlenose dolphins washing ashore dead is the oil spill. According to Stephanie Venn-Watson, the study’s lead researcher with the National Marine Mammal Foundation, there is no “feasible alternative causes” to explain the deaths.
Between 2002 to 2009, the gulf averaged 63 dolphin deaths a year, but in the seven months after the spill 125 died and 335 in 2011. In the five years since the spill the average number of dolphin deaths has more than doubled to 200 a year. Scientists say these dolphins all suffered from lung and adrenal lesions caused by swimming in the polluted Gulf.
Venn-Watson explained that dolphins were especially vulnerable after the spill because they swim to the Gulf’s surface to take deep breaths. She said:
Dolphins were swimming into the oil. Their lungs are large, they take big deep breaths at the water’s surface and hold it for extended periods of time.
Remember what the surface of the Gulf looked like after the spill?
BP is, of course, denying that they are to blame for the deaths:
‘This new paper fails to show that the illnesses observed in some dolphins were caused by exposure to Macondo oil,’ said Geoff Morrell, a BP spokesman. Morrell said BP was ‘unaware of any toxicological studies linking lung disease in bottlenose dolphins to exposure to oil or other environmental contaminants.’
Well, you didn’t expect them to take responsibility for killing Flipper, did you?
Featured image via Onearth.org