Dolphin, turtle deaths eyed for links to oil spill

Thu May 13, 2010 6:25pm EDT
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By Steve Gorman

PORT FOURCHON, Louisiana (Reuters) - Scientists are examining samples from seven dolphins and over 100 sea turtles found dead along the U.S. Gulf Coast in the past two weeks to see if they were victims of the giant oil spill in the region, wildlife officials said on Thursday.

All of the deaths are being investigated as suspected casualties of the oil gushing unchecked since April 20 from a ruptured wellhead on the floor of the Gulf off Louisiana because of their proximity in time and space to the spill.

But none of the dolphins or turtles examined showed any obvious visible signs of oil contamination. Necropsies -- the animal equivalent of autopsies -- are being performed and analyzed to determine if oil ingestion caused the deaths.

"So far we have not seen any relationship with the deaths of either the turtles or the dolphins to oil," Dr. Moby Solangi, head of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, told Reuters TV in Gulfport, Mississippi.

But Solangi added it was only a matter of time before the spilled oil began affecting the dolphin population.

"This oil has spread into their habitat. There is no question that the oil is in their habitat," Solangi said.

The seven dolphins and 106 sea turtles were found along the coast of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama over the past two weeks, sources close to the Gulf's wildlife spill-response teams said.

One heavily decayed dolphin carcass was seen on the beach at the very tip of Port Fourchon in southeastern Louisiana. Gooey, rust-colored globs of oil debris began washing ashore on that beach on Wednesday night.   Continued...

<p>A dead sea turtle is collected on the beach by a worker from the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Mississippi May 4, 2010 before an oil spill is expected to hit the beaches in the next few days. REUTERS/Rick Wilking</p>