Filed Under:  Environmental, Gulf Coast, News, Regional

Could the BP spill still be killing the dolphins?

27th August 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

Environmental Attorney Stuart Smith observed to The Louisiana Weekly, “We have had massive dolphin die offs in the past 24 months, tremendous falls in shrimp populations, and no one in the local media has reported on this—or reasoned that there could be any connection to the oil spill.”

Smith noted an article in the Toronto Star which contended, “From February 2010 to June 17 there have been 757 [documented] dolphin and whale strandings in the northern Gulf of Mexico, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admini­stration (NOAA). Five per cent of the mammals stranded alive, while 95 percent stranded dead, the federal agency reports.”

“Although the strandings have occurred over a period of more than two years, scientists are treating them as one event.

“This is one of our longest … mortality events that we have ever dealt with,” says Blair Mase, NOAA’s Southeast Regional Marine Mammal Stranding Co-ordinator, ‘and it is still ongoing’.”

“The strandings span the northern Gulf, including the Louisi­ana/Texas border, Missis­sippi, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle.

Under NOAA’s Marine Mammal Protection Act, an “unusual mortality event” [UME] — when a stranding occurs unexpectedly and involves a significant die-off — has been declared.”

Smith goes to point out to the Weekly, “This should be what our current vice president would call a ‘BFD’.” The article goes on to note that “NOAA’s preliminary findings of the deceased animals include poor body condition, teeth discoloration, and lung infections. A blackish-grey, mud-like substance was found in the stomachs of four of the animals.”

In a separate interview, Bonny Schumaker, Ph.D., president and founder of On Wings Of Care, Inc., a New Orleans-based Non-profit 501©(3) Gulf Habitat advocacy group, recounted, “Except for rare and hard-won sightings (like the 10 whale sharks and 11 pilot whales and 35 dolphins on June 29), it’s like flying over a desert when we fly over the Gulf now.”

“Barely a seabird, an occasional flying fish,” she continued, “Where are the bait balls? The sea turtles? The dolphin pods? The whales? The sharks? The schools of rays? They were everywhere in May-July 2010. Where are they now? We’re flying the same times and dates, the same routes, the same altitudes, over the same banks and canyons and ridges and seeing the same predictable convergence lines; why is it so different now?”

Apparently, similar die-off levels, proportionate to population, are occurring with the Gulf’s shrimp population. In a report by TV station KTRK, “ Two years after the BP oil spill, shrimpers in the Gulf of Mexico say things have changed for the worse. Some say they’re hesitant to take settlement money from BP because the catch has been so bad the last two years, and they’re not sure when it will get better.”

“From the docks of Chalmette to the quiet waters of Delcambre in Louisiana, business is slow. ‘It’s been bad two years in a row,’ Delcambre shrimper Jimmie Dupre said. That business is shrimp, and the shrimpers say they’ve never seen anything like 2011 and 2012.”

Schumaker said of the data, “If there exists proof that all of these animals are still alive and well but elsewhere, I would really like to understand it. Otherwise, we all should be prepared to admit that BP, and our subsequent use of Corexit, have in combination committed a heinous crime against nature and humanity here in the Gulf of Mexico.

Smith added, “I don’t think you need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that the most massive oil spill in American history may have something to do with this. Yet NOAA — the National Ocea­nic and Atmospheric Admini­stration, tasked with this investigation — continues to drag its feet on completing its probe or reaching its conclusions, which could be devastating news for BP. The biggest ‘mystery’ surrounding the dolphin die-off is whether the federal investigators are just underfunded, incompetent, or in the tank for Big Oil.”

Many Oceanographic experts have cautioned that more evidence is needed before these problems can be conclusively blamed on the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Smith objects, “I agree that the Gulf needs more research, and better research. But after a while, as these negative stories pile up, it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that BP’s recklessness has wreaked major, long-term havoc upon the fragile environment of the Gulf.”

He lamented that the tourist economy of the Biloxi and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, that once was centered around going to the beach, now has more to do with casino reconstruction than eco-tourism.

Overall tourism is down, city figures list four million visitors to Biloxi since last year. That is down from the more than eight million that visited pre-Katrina but significantly higher than the years immediately after the storm.

Despite Biloxi earning $20 million in taxes from casino revenue, nearly half of the city’s budget, Smith critiqued, “It’s all relative, isn’t it? First of all, it’s barely a 50 percent comeback, and the story notes — as is fairly common with all these gambling-powered comebacks — the poorest neighborhoods have been left behind.”

Much the same story of de­pressed recovery can be seen in Jefferson Parish’s own beachside community of Grand Isle. Two of the beachside restaurants that were packed prior to the BP spill have closed and filed for bankruptcy. Property values that were soaring on beachside villas and fishing camps, have flatlined, according to realtor Irv Magri.

This article originally published in the August 27, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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