Year After Gulf Oil Spill, Dolphin Deaths Up

Graham Worthy, an expert ondolphins who ran Texas’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network for a decade and continues to monitor the Gulf of Mexico will be available to media today, the one-year anniversary of the nation’s largest oil spill.

Worthy, a professor at the University of Central Florida, is analyzing data from his most recent survey of the Pensacola and Choctawatchee bays. He suspects the oil spill played a role in the highly unusual number of dead dolphins (more than 100) found along the gulf shores this year.

“I suspect what we are seeing is several things coming together to form a perfect storm,” Worthy said. “The cold was a very unusual circumstance, but I think we may also be seeing an indirect effect stemming from the BP oil spill, from the way it may have disrupted the food chain.”

It is estimated that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill dumped about 5 millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for three months.

According to U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) a total of 153 bottle-nosed dolphin carcasses have washed up on Gulf coasts since January 2011. Of those 65 were new born, infants, stillborn or born prematurely. NOAA has now taken over the investigation and has not released any findings to date.

Worthy was one of 27 Florida scientists awarded money in 2010 to study the impact of the spill in the region. The researchers split $10 million BP gave the Florida Institute of Oceanography for research.

Young dolphins are of particular interest in Worthy’s study because the oil spill occurred during the dolphins’ breeding season. Worthy is interested in finding out if the young population survived and, if so, how healthy it is. Another question he seeks to answer is whether the fish the dolphins consume have been impacted by the spill.

Worthy is the Hubbs Professor of Marine Mammalogy. He received his Ph.D in 1986 from University of Guelph in Canada and then completed at the University of California at Santa Cruz where he worked on elephant seals, bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions. He spent 11 years as a faculty member in the Department of Marine Biology at Texas A&M University at Galveston and served as the State Coordinator for the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network. His Physiological Ecology and Bioenergetics Research Lab (PEBL) at UCF is currently working on a variety of projects involving creatures in such wide-ranging areas as Taiwan, Florida and South Africa.

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