Rise in baby dolphin deaths examined

Associated Press / February 25, 2011

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NEW ORLEANS — Scientists are trying to figure out what killed 53 bottlenose dolphins — many of them babies — this year in the Gulf of Mexico, as five more carcasses washed up yesterday in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

It’s likely to be months before they get back lab work showing what caused the spontaneous abortions, premature births, deaths shortly after birth, and adult deaths said Blair Mase, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s stranding coordinator for the Gulf Coast.

“It’s not like CSI where the very next day they have the results in,’’ she said.

Calves and fetuses made up at least 85 percent of the deaths in Alabama, 60 percent or more of those in Mississippi and Florida, and 20 percent in Louisiana, according to NOAA figures.

The Mississippi and Alabama deaths are in areas where bottlenose dolphins go to calve, said Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport.

Scientists are investigating whether the deaths are related to last year’s huge BP oil spill, but they say toxins from oil or chemicals used to disperse it are considered a less likely cause than cold or disease because only one species of dolphin — and no other kind of animal — is dying, and because the calf deaths appear concentrated rather than Gulf-wide.