NEW ORLEANS – Dolphins living in one of the areas worst hit by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill were in bad shape a year later, with lung problems consistent with exposure to oil, according to a study assessing damage from the spill.
Government, academic and other researchers made comprehensive checkups on 29 dolphins in Barataria Bay in August 2011 as part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment. Barataria Bay was one of the areas where pelicans struggled in heavy slicks and thick globs of oil washed onto marshy islands after the 2010 spill.
Fourteen of the 29 dolphins examined in 2011 were in guarded, poor or grave condition. That compared to one out of 15 caught for comparison in Sarasota Bay, Fla., which was not involved in the spill, according to the study published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
“There’s disease in any wild population. But I just haven’t seen animals in such bad shape as in Barataria Bay,” Lori Schwacke, wildlife epidemiologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said during a teleconference Wednesday.
The study indicates a possible link to the oil spill but does not prove one, said Mobi Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Miss.
“I think it’s an important study. It’s an important first step,” said Solangi, who was not involved in the study.