BP disputes report linking La. dolphin illnesses to oil spill

Report author says BP got surveys

BP has taken issue with a report released Wednesday linking the poor health of dolphins in Barataria Bay to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, saying the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hasn’t proven a connection.

NOAA researchers maintain in the study released Wednesday they’ve looked for other causes of the dolphins’ poor health, but it all points to oil exposure.

However, BP spokesman Jason Ryan disputed that finding.

“BP has been funding NOAA’s work on this subject for over three years and requesting data throughout this period. The agency still has not provided BP with any data demonstrating that the alleged poor health of any dolphins was caused by oil exposure,” Ryan wrote in an emailed statement.

On Wednesday, Lori Schwacke, co-lead author of the report, said not only have all the results of the health surveys been shared with BP, but BP had representatives imbedded with the researchers during the 2011 dolphin survey.

In the study, dolphin health in Barataria Bay, heavily polluted during the 2010 oil spill, was compared with the health of dolphins surveyed in Sarasota, Fla., which didn’t receive any oil.

The researchers found that the dolphins in Barataria Bay were much more likely to have lung diseases, many were underweight and they had low levels of hormones that regulate a number of bodily functions including immune responses.

Ryan, however, wrote “The symptoms that NOAA has observed in this study have been seen in other dolphin mortality events that have been related to contaminants and conditions found in the northern Gulf, such as PCBs, DDT and pesticides, unusual cold stun events, and toxins from harmful algal blooms.”

Schwacke said the researchers tested the dolphins for possible exposure to a number of chemicals, including DDT and PCB, and found levels of these to be lower in the Barataria Bay dolphins than the Sarasota dolphins.

Ryan also noted the symptoms “are also consistent with natural diseases such as Morbillivirus and Brucellosis. As NOAA has itself acknowledged, the Unusual Mortality Event (UME) for dolphins began in February 2010, two months before the Deepwater Horizon accident.”

Through a separate but related program, NOAA is looking into an Unusual Mortality Event for dolphins along the Gulf Coast that started in February 2010, and hasn’t found evidence that morbillivirus is a primary cause for deaths.

Brucella bacteria has also been associated with Unusual Mortality Events in the past, but only a few of the dolphins tested so far have come up positive or suspected positive for the bacteria, according to NOAA.

Ryan added, “Dolphin UMEs occur with some regularity in the Gulf of Mexico and around the world and have for years.”

According to NOAA, since 1991, there have been 19 UMEs in the Gulf of Mexico, seven of them specific to manatees only, with the rest involving dolphins or whales.