December 18, 2013
Gulf Dolphins Are Still Sick After the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
BY: Jackie Savitz
This morning NOAA released a report from its dolphin health assessment following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Their investigation shows the effects of the spill on dolphins in Barataria Bay, including a higher prevalence of lung disease and adrenal effects.
One of the worst sights I’ve ever seen was the Gulf Oil Spill, but the thing that brought tears to my eyes was seeing dolphins doing their usual graceful arcing dives into and out of oil slicks. Besides being coated by the oil, they were breathing air at the surface that I knew contained toxic hydrocarbons from the spill since I could smell them myself. Oil is a mixture that includes many toxic chemicals, and some of them evaporate into the air. Besides breathing those chemicals when they surfaced, the dolphins were likely exposed to the oil in other ways such as when swallowing water, and through their food. We are just now beginning to learn the impacts of the oil on marine life. While we have seen an unusual number of dolphin deaths during and after the spill, this report verifies that the oil took a larger toll on dolphins. It shows that many of those that survived were made sick by the oil. Illnesses like the ones seen in this report can compromise their ability to survive in the long run, not to mention their ability to reproduce and maintain healthy populations.
Oil production in the Gulf has had a much larger toll on the ecosystem than most people realize. There are many impacts you don’t see, and these sick dolphins are a good example. We wouldn’t even know about these if it weren’t for the dedicated work of NOAA’s damage assessment team. But they can’t test every animal or every part of the Gulf of Mexico. In fact the full damage assessment must be much, much worse.
Every time the government allows more offshore drilling rather than stimulating clean energy like offshore wind, they are allowing these types of impacts on marine life. Thankfully we have prevented drilling in the Atlantic for now, but we continue to place dolphins and other marine animals in harm’s way by allowing offshore drilling in the Gulf and even in the Arctic. Instead, the government needs to move away from offshore drilling, especially offshore in the Arctic, where there are even more hazards than in the Gulf, like frequent darkness and floating ice, and much less response capacity even that what we saw in the Gulf. The Obama Administration must begin to transition us off of oil, and onto offshore wind and other clean energy alternatives, so we can make sure the types of injuries to marine life shown in this report never happen again.