Dolphin deaths still high after Gulf oil spill, environmentalists say

Dolphin deaths and sea turtle strandings in the waters affected by the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill continue to occur at elevated rates nearly three years after the disaster, environmentalists said in a new report Tuesday.

The National Wildlife Federation report asserted that while the response by BP and other officials to date has been focused on cleaning up visible oil, little has been done to repair the damage caused to marine life and their food chain.

“Despite the public relations blitz by BP, this spill is not over,” David Muth, director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Mississippi River Delta Restoration Program, said in a statement.

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Among other things, the report said infant dolphins were found dead at six times average rates in January and February of this year and that more than 1,700 sea turtles were found stranded between May 2010 and November 2012, the last date for which information is available.The group says that in typical years on average about 240 sea turtles are stranded annually.

A spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Connie Barclay, declined to address the specific findings in the report.

Data from the federal agency shows turtle strandings in Gulf waters of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana actually declined in 2012 compared to 2011. NOAA didn’t provide 2012 figures for the Florida coast nor 2011 data for Texas and Florida. Dolphin and whale data provided by NOAA dealt mainly with strandings.

“NOAA scientists continue to assess and evaluate the marine condition due to the BP oil spill,” Barclay said in an email. “At this time, NOAA does not have new information to release.”

On NOAA’s website, the agency said in a post updated just last week that its investigation into the increase in strandings of marine mammals, including dolphins and whales, continues and that no definitive cause has yet been established.

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BP said in a statement that it has done plenty to clean up the Gulf over the last three years and protect wildlife.

“No company has done more, faster to respond to an industrial accident than BP did in response to the Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010,” BP said. “As a result of our $14 billion clean-up effort, BP funded early restoration projects as well as natural recovery processes, the Gulf is returning to its baseline condition – the condition it would be in if the accident had not occurred.”

BP also said it has been working with federal and state agencies to study the potential impact of the Deepwater Horizon accident on marine mammals and other wildlife, including dolphins.  The studies are ongoing and preliminary data are still being analyzed in order to better understand potential effects on wildlife, BP said.

BP owned the undersea well that blew out 50 miles off the Louisiana coast on April 20, 2010, causing an explosion on the Transocean-owned Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 men. It took nearly three months to cap the runaway well that spilled millions of gallons of oil into the sea. Halliburton provided the cement for the well project.

A civil trial is currently ongoing in federal court in New Orleans to apportion blame for the disaster.