Just months after America's worst oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico a much higher than normal seasonal appearance of newborn and still born dolphins are washing ashore in at least four states.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared the recent dolphin deaths "an unusual mortality event," with today's numbers topping 80 animals discovered so far.
Is this a byproduct of heightened regional monitoring after a major ecological disaster, or a harbinger of things to come for the Gulf?
As top order predators regional dolphin populations are the quintessential "canary in the coal mine," the first to signal accumulated toxins in the food chain. Dolphins may have gorged on weakened fish and shrimp last summer, or may have become immune compromised passing through sub sea plumes of oil and Corexit.
Or this may just "an unusual mortality event," with no causal effect at all.
Unfortunately there is very little hard data on seasonal fetal dolphin deaths in the region. Most dolphin census data or studies look at population groups and mass strandings see example.
Hopefully the cause of fetal and calf dolphin deaths in the region can be uncovered by researchers, but as we read over at the Deep Sea News Blog from Dr.Bik last week:
Then there’s the money. Or rather, there isn’t the money. Only $50 million of BP’s promised $500 million in research money has been doled out; a scientific board has been set up to distribute the remaining $450 million, but it seems like they’re still writing ethical guidelines and drafting up an application process. Which means, probably another year before any scientists will be able to use money from this pot.