Gulf of Mexico oil disaster still kills dolphins

April 10, 2013 | Environment
Dolphins: surviving the Deepwater Horizon oil spill | Photo: Steve Shippee

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is still killing dolphins, sea turtles and other marine life in record numbers.

Infant dolphins are dying six times faster than they did before the 4.9 million barrels of oil got spilled in the Gulf of Mexico.

"These ongoing deaths - particularly in an apex predator like the dolphin - are a strong indication that there is something amiss with the Gulf ecosystem," explains Doug Inkley, senior scientist for the National Wildlife Federation.

More than 1,700 sea turtles were found stranded between May 2010 and November 2012, the last date for which information is available. For comparison, on average about 240 sea turtles are stranded annually.

A coral colony seven miles from the wellhead was badly damaged by oil. A recent laboratory study found that the mixture of oil and dispersant affected the ability of some coral species to build new parts of a reef.

Scientists found that the oil disaster affected the cellular function of the killifish, a common baitfish at the base of the food web. A recent laboratory study found that oil exposure can also harm the development of larger fish such as mahi mahi.

"What frustrates me is how little has changed over the past three years. In many cases, funding for critical research has even been even been cut, limiting our understanding of the disaster's impacts", adds Ian MacDonald, professor of Oceanography at Florida State University.