Long-term illness and death among Gulf region wildlife mounts daily. The estimated 170 million gallons of oil and 2 million gallons of chemical dispersants used to initially reduce the spread of oil are suspect.
Recent Dolphin Deaths Raise Concern
This year 20 dead baby and stillborn dolphins were found along 130-miles of shoreline in Mississippi and Alabama, according to a Reuters News report on February 22.
Although it is calving season for area dolphins, the amount of dead dolphins is ten times higher than average explained Moby Solangi, director of the Institute of Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Mississippi, in the report.
Necropsies are scheduled for the carcasses to determine if the dolphin deaths are related to complications from the oil spill.
Confirmed Wildlife Deaths from the Oil Spill
In the first six months following the BP oil spill the National Wildlife Federation estimates 8,000 sea turtles, birds, dolphins, whales, sea corals and birds have been found dead or injured along the Gulf coast region.
Oil affects wildlife and their habitats in four ways, explains the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Ingestion, inhalation, absorption and physical contact with oil and chemical dispersants have lead to the deaths and injuries of Gulf region wildlife.
Brown pelicans that float on the water’s surface absorb oil into their feathers making them less water repellant and buoyant. As the bird cleans itself, it risks liver, kidney and lung damage which may result in death.
Bird eggs have been damaged when oil-soaked birds incubate the nest. Land-dwelling animals such as raccoons and skunks may ingest the oil while preying on carcasses on the coastline.
Food Sources Impacted by Oil Damage
The Gulf region food web is unbalanced, according to the National Wildlife Foundation. Eggs, larvae and aquatic plants that once served as food resources dwindle. Oil spills prevent plant germination and can cause die-offs of entire algae species, explains the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Sandy beaches, salt marshes and muddy coastlines can harbor oil residue for 30 years after the initial oil spill. Twenty years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill the population of herring has still not recovered, according to the National Wildlife Foundation.
Sources and Suggested Further Reading:
National Wildlife Federation: How Does the BP Oil Spill Impact Wildlife and Habitat?
Reuters News Service: Baby Dolphin Deaths Spike Along Gulf Coast
Mississippi Department of Marine Resources: 2010 Oil Spill Incident
Response and Information
RestoreTheGulf.gov: Fish & Wildlife
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Effects of Oil on Wildlife and Habitat