The mass deaths of birds, fish, crabs and bats may have receded from the news, but they are still going on. It’s calving season in the Gulf of Mexico where dolphins come every year to give birth. This year so far, according to The Sun-Herald , 17 dead baby dolphins, either stillborn or dead soon after birth, have washed up on the beaches of Mississippi and Alabama.
Scientists are concerned. According to Blair Mase, NOAA’s marine mammal stranding coordinator for the Southeast region, the number of baby dolphin deaths is unusually high this year. Normally, during the calving season one or two dead baby dolphins will wash up on the shore per month. This year we are talking about ten times the normal rate of miscarriage and stillbirth at what is just a bit past the middle of the birthing season.
The Institute of Marine Mammal Studies is doing necropsies( animal autopsies) on two of the dead animals in an attempt to solve the mystery. Bone and tissue samples will be taken for later examination. According to the Institute’s Director, Moby Solangi, the increased numbers of infant dolphin deaths are significant,especially in light of last year’s BP oil spill which unleashed millions of tons of oil and other toxins into the Gulf, many of which have made their way to Mississippi and Chandeleur sounds and other bays and shallow waters where dolphins breed and give birth. Another clue is adult dophin deaths spiked after the oilspill from around 39 per year to 86. The institute is gathering tissue and organs for a thorough forensic study. As Solangi observes;
“We shouldn’t really jump to any conclusions until we get some results,” Solangi said. “But this is more than just a coincidence.”
Nothing happens in isolation. Mysterious animal deaths, particulary involving birds and marine life, are happening all over the planet. They may not all be the result of last year’s BP Oilspill, but they are all the result of human tinkering with the natural world and our poisoning of the environment. They are all connected to our exploitation of the world around us. Like canaries in the coal mine, they are a warning.
The dolphins are paying the price now. If we do not do something to stop this poisoning of the natural environment, we will soon be paying a painful price as well.