Dead dolphins are washed up on the Gulf Coast in record numbers and the toll has breached 400 in just one year, even as Federal authorities are trying to put a lid on actual numbers and the reasons for unusual deaths.
CNN reported on Friday that 406 dolphins were found either stranded or dead on the Gulf Coast between February 2010 and April 2011. It has been widely thought that the dolphin deaths, and the death and stranding of other marine mammal population, have been the result of BP's oil spill last year, an accident in which millions of liters of oil gushed into the sea.
Reuters reported last month that the National Marine Fisheries Service had ordered officials who document dolphin deaths and collect specimens not to reveal their findings to media or outsiders.
Because of the seriousness of the legal case, no data or findings may be released, presented or discussed outside the UME investigative team without prior approval, the agency told marine biologists engaged in the work, Reuters reported.
The report said that as many as 200 bottlenose dolphins were found dead in the first three months of the year along the shores of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. This number was 14 times higher than the average number of dolphin deaths in this area during the given period of time.
In a clear suggestion of the link of unusual dolphin deaths to the BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling platform explosion, it was reported that around 90 dolphins were washed up dead in the weeks following the accident.
A Telegraph report last year said there are 3,000 to 5,000 dolphins in and around Mississippi waters and an estimated 75,000 in the Gulf of Mexico.
Scientists are agitated over the federal agency's refusal to allow transparency in its work on dolphin deaths in the Gulf Coast.
They accused the Marine Fisheries Service, which is a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), of lack of accountability. There are accusations that the agency is slow-paced on this work, having failed to even selecting labs for conducting analysis of the specimen.
However, NOAA officials point to procedural delays. We have to be very methodical ... The criminal investigation does play a role in the delay of findings, but it has to be done this way, Blair Mase, a marine mammal scientist for NOAA, told Reuters.
NOAA has refused to identify the BP oil spill as the reason for the unusual dolphin deaths. A year after the oil spill, we are still seeing dolphins washing ashore with evidence of oil on them — but it may not be the cause of death, Mase was quoted as saying by the St Petersburg Times.