Damage from the 2010 BP oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico continues to turn up in the form of dead dolphins and sea turtles, according to a report released today by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).
After studying 14 species affected by the April 2010 spill, researchers concluded that the ongoing demise of these marine mammals and amphibians is easier than ever to link to the oil disaster by looking at population trends, their physical symptoms and the areas of the gulf affected.
They report that:
- Scientific evidence suggests strongly that the ongoing illnesses of dolphins in a heavily oiled section of Louisiana is related to oil exposure. More than 900 bottlenose dolphins have been found dead or stranded in the area of the spill, which released 200 million gallons of crude oil into the gulf. In 2013, dolphins were still being found dead at more than three times normal rates. Tests of these animals show they are underweight, anemic and suffering from lung and liver disease.
- Roughly five hundred dead sea turtles have been found every year for the past three years in the area affected by the spill—a dramatic increase over normal rates.
- Oyster reproduction remained low over large areas of the northern Gulf at least through the fall of 2012.
- Tests of affected wildlife continue to turn up chemicals from oil in their flesh or blood. One such chemical has been shown to cause irregular heartbeats in bluefin and yellowfin tuna that can lead to heart attacks, or even death. Loons that winter on the Louisiana coast also have shown increasing concentrations of toxic oil compounds in their blood.
- Sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico have higher levels of DNA-damaging metals than sperm whales elsewhere in the world—metals that were present in oil from BP’s well.
- Blue crab populations did not drop immediately after the spill, but did in 2013. The crabs shown lesions that were similar to those found on shrimp in the aftermath of the spill.
“Four years later, wildlife in the Gulf are still feeling the impacts of the spill,” said Doug Inkley, senior scientist for the National Wildlife Federation. “Bottlenose dolphins in oiled areas are still sick and dying and the evidence is stronger than ever that these deaths are connected to the Deepwater Horizon [the oil rig that exploded]. The science is telling us that this is not over.”
The critically endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, whose populations had been rebounding before the spill, also suffered a critical setback. Four years ago, “the numbers of Kemp’s ridley appear to have flat-lined,” said Pamela Plotkin, an associate research professor of oceanography at Texas A&M University and director of Texas Sea Grant. “We need to monitor this species carefully, as the next few years will be critical.”
Read a summary of the report at NWF.org.
Download the full report here.