Sunday, February 27, 2011

Something is killing baby dolphins

Photo courtesy of

A tide of dead infant dolphins has washed ashore along a 100-mile stretch of the Alabama and Mississippi coastlines in the past two weeks. Marine mammal experts believe the Gulf oil spill may be to blame and fear it will only get worse.

Moby Solangi, Director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, and his team say there's a chance this could be an anomaly. "But in my 30 years of studying dolphins I have never seen anything like this. This is highly unusual."

Solangi called the high number of deaths significant, especially in light of the BP oil spill throughout the spring and summer last year when millions of barrels of crude oil containing toxins and carcinogens spewed into the Gulf of Mexico. Oil worked its way into the Mississippi and Chandeleur sounds and other bays and shallow waters where dolphins breed and give birth.

Dolphins breed in the spring and carry their young for 11 to 12 months. When a dolphin is born, its mother has the job of making sure it gets to the surface for its first breath of air. If the baby is dead, the mother still tries. Over and over, sometimes for hours. She stays with the baby, not realizing fully that it is dead. She will hit it with her tail, grasp it, pull it and nudge it gently, hoping to get it to breathe.

"The more desperate the animal gets when the calf is not breathing, the more intense her behavior becomes," Solangi said. "I've watched it."

"She goes into a frenzy trying to get the baby to respond and then stays with her dead infant, sometimes for hours before she lets it go. That's why some of the dead dolphin infants identified in the last two weeks have trauma to their bodies. They didn't die by being hit," he said.

Watch the NBC News story

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