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Environmental News of the BP Oil Spill

Dolphin Illnesses Linked to Gulf Oil Spill

January 3, 2014, 1:18 pm

Dolphins living in an area heavily impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill show higher incidences of lung disease, hormonal abnormalities, and other health effects, a new study finds.

The research, led by U.S. government scientists and funded by BP, the oil company that operated the ill-fated Macondo well, provides the clearest evidence to date linking the oil disaster with potentially deadly health effects in bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico. (See related quiz: "How Much Do You Know About the Gulf Oil Spill?")

The dolphin study was done as part of a process led by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) called a Natural Resource Damage Assessment that investigates whether the spill was responsible for any damage to wildlife or natural resources.

"I've never seen such a high prevalence of very sick animals—and with unusual conditions such as the adrenal hormone abnormalities," study leader Lori Schwake, a NOAA scientist,  said in a statement. (See related, "Gulf Oil Spill Pictures: Ten New Studies Show Impact on Coast.")

Mobi Solangi, who directs the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS) in Gulfport, Mississippi and was not involved in the study, called the study a "good first step [that] shows the possibility of a link," he said. (See related, "Dolphin Baby Die-Off in Gulf Puzzles Scientists.")

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