Have dolphins recovered from the BP oil spill?

The rate of dolphin deaths in the Gulf of Mexico seems to be leveling off following the BP oil spill, but are they really better off?

The BP Deepwater Horizons oil spill caused absolute devastation in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, and the damage continues today despite extensive cleanup efforts. According to an AP report, researchers said that the number of dolphins found washing up on the shores of Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida has finally begun to decline following the spill.

The National Marine Fisheries Service reported that a total of 1,433 dolphins and whales washed up on Gulf shores after being exposed to the oil from the spill. Roughly 87 percent of these were bottlenose dolphins. The highest rate of dolphin deaths occurred from 2010 to 2014, and many washed up dead or stillborn.

Some of the dolphins suffered from a bacterial infection contracted after the oil had weakened their immune systems. Others inhaled oil vapor on the water’s surface, absorbed it through their skin, or ingested it from sediments or fish that had become contaminated.

BP was unavailable for comment following the recent NMFS report. It still may be too early for scientists to declare that dolphin populations are on the rebound. It might take years before a conclusive trend could be determined.

BP has agreed to pay a $20.8 billion settlement to the United States as a result of the spill. The incident spilled roughly 4.9 million barrels of oil in 2010, and killed 11 employees working on the offshore rig. It took responders nearly five months before the spill was stopped.

A recent NOAA report also examined the rate of dolphin demise in the Gulf, and found that prior to the spill, there were roughly 74 dolphins washing up on the shores each year. After the spill, the rate increased to nearly 250 individuals per year.

BP said in response to the NOAA report, “It’s really important to note that unfortunately, these large die-offs of dolphins aren’t unusual. Even though the UME (Unusually Mortality Event) may have overlapped in some areas with the oil spill, correlation is not evidence of causation.”

It’s not, but the number of petroleum engineers swimming in the Gulf following the spill compared to the number of dolphins was shockingly low.

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