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article imageStillborn and infant dolphin deaths escalate in Gulf of Mexico

By Lynn Herrmann     Feb 24, 2011 in Environment
Gulfport - The first birthing season for dolphins since BP’s disaster last year in the Gulf of Mexico is getting off on a tragic note, with at least 17 stillborn or infant dolphins discovered in the last two weeks along the Mississippi and Alabama coastlines.
Moby Solangi, director of Gulfport’s Institute for Marine Mammal Studies told the Sun Herald it is still too early to determine the cause of the dolphins’ deaths.
“For some reason, they’ve started aborting or they were dead before they were born,” Solangi said, according to the Sun Herald. “The average is one or two a month. This year we have 17 and February isn’t even over yet,” he added.
The Institute had collected 13 of the dead dolphins in the last two weeks and three more were found on Monday along Gulfport and Horn Island beaches.
“Something is amiss,” said Bill Walker, head of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, the Sun Herald reports. “It could be oil-related. Who knows? Some of these mothers were probably exposed to oil. Whether it rendered them unable to carry their calves, we just don’t know,” he added.
Walker’s department is working with the Institute to collect the dead infant dolphins on Horn Island.
Several of the young dead dolphins found have trauma to their bodies. Solangi said: “They didn’t die by being hit,” the Sun Herald reports.
Solangi has been observing the Gulf for 30 years and collecting dolphin date in Mississippi for 20 years. It is the single largest number of infant dolphin mortalities he has seen in the two states.
After a young dolphin in born, the mother must get the young calf to the surface for its first breath of air. Even when the calf is born dead, the mother tries getting the baby to the surface, over and over. This procedure is sometimes repeated for hours.
Solangi told the Sun Herald: “The more desperate the animal gets when the calf is not breathing, the more intense her behavior becomes. I’ve watched it.”
The mother dolphin, not fully aware the calf is dead, will gently nudge it, grasp it, hit it with her tail or pull it, all in an attempt at getting it to breathe. Thus, the trauma marks being found on some of the dead baby dolphins.
According to McClatchy, Solangi said the numbers are abnormal and are significant due to last years oil disaster in the Gulf. The Institute is conducting necropsies on two of the dead baby dolphins.
: According to ABC News, a total of 24 young dead dolphins have been found as of February 23, including five since Wednesday.
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