Gulf dolphins suffering from liver and lung disease — Hard partying lifestyle probably not to blame

Oil’s a natural substance, right? A little bit can’t hurt you. That seems to be the position of those pushing for a return to pre-BP oil spill levels of oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. And the spill itself: that was so two years ago. Everything’s fine now.

Those making such sanguine pronouncements might want to take a look at a new study from NOAA on the health of bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf, as it takes issue with some of these assumptions. Scientists took a look at 32 dolphins from Louisiana’s Barataria Bay in the Summer of 2011, and their preliminary findings show “many of the dolphins in the study are underweight, anemic, have low blood sugar and/or some symptoms of liver and lung disease. Nearly half also have abnormally low levels of the hormones that help with stress response, metabolism and immune function.” These health issues come on top of discoveries that a higher than usual number of dolphins have “stranded” in the northern Gulf of Mexico: 675 since February 2010 versus the normal 74 annually.

So, why does this matter? I mean, dolphins are just “charismatic megafauna” that raise a lot of money for environmental organizations, right? Not completely: dolphins are near the top of the food chain, so their health issues may indicate further problems with lower-level species (which have cropped up in other studies). And while I’m definitely a layperson when it comes to biology, I’d have to wonder if the problems in these mammals don’t point to potential issues for people who live on the Gulf Coast.

But oil’s natural. And dispersants: they’re just surfectants, like you find in soap. Nothing to see here, I’m sure.

via National Wildlife Federation


Image credit: Jual via photopin cc