Connie Chevis, DVM, left, and Dr. Joey Kaletsch, DVM, take samples while performing a necropsy on a dolphin calf at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport on Monday, February 21 2011. The calf, who is believed to be about four days old, was killed by trauma. Mobi Salangi, executive director for the institute, says there is an unusually high number of dolphin calf deaths for this time of year. They have recovered 17 calves and are performing necropsies to determine the causes of death.
GULFPORT -- Baby dolphins, some barely three feet in length, are washing up along the Mississippi and Alabama coastlines at 10 times the normal rate of stillborn and infant deaths, researchers are finding.
The Sun Herald has learned that 17 young dolphins, either aborted before they reached maturity or dead soon after birth, have been collected along the shorelines.
The Institute of Marine Mammal Studies is doing necropsies, animal autopsies, on two of the babies now.
Moby Solangi, director of the institute, called the numbers an anomaly and told the Sun Herald that they are significant, especially in light of the BP oil spill throughout the spring and summer last year. Millions of barrels of crude oil containing toxins and carcinogens spewed into the Gulf of Mexico. Oil worked its way into the Mississippi and Chandeleur sounds and other bays and shallow waters where dolphins breed and give birth.
This is the first birthing season for dolphins since the spill.
Dolphins breed in the spring and carry their young for 11 to 12 months, Solangi said.
Typically in January and February, there are one or two babies per month found in Mississippi and Alabama, then the birthing season goes into full swing in March and April.
“For some reason, they’ve started aborting or they were dead before they were born,” Solangi said. “The average is one or two a month. This year we have 17 and February isn’t even over yet.”
Deaths in the adult dolphin population rose in the year of the oil spill from a norm of about 30 to 89, Solangi said.
Solangi is gathering tissue and organs for a thorough forensic study of the infant deaths and is cautious about drawing conclusions until the data is in within a couple of weeks.
“We shouldn’t really jump to any conclusions until we get some results,” Solangi said. “But this is more than just a coincidence.”
The institute told the Sun Herald that it has collected 14 infant dolphins in the last two weeks and three in Mississippi today.
The Sun Herald will update this story with more details as they become available.
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