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Dolphins at the Doctor – NOAA video
(Explains similarities between dolphins and humans)

Gulf of Mexico Dolphin health assessments, used in new study, were performed about one year after the 2010 BP oil spill was capped. They managed to cap this disastrous oil leak after several months. But, Fukushima is still leaking radioactive water after almost 3 years!

Where are the lawsuits over Fukushima? Are there any?
5 weeks after the Gulf of Mexico spill started, there were already 120 to 130 lawsuits filed. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepwater_Horizon_litigation Without these lawsuits perhaps BP wouldn’t have bothered to plug that leak either. Besides the obvious lawsuits against TEPCO and the Japanese gov there need to be international lawsuits filed against the IAEA for suggesting that the Japanese gov-TEPCO may let radioactive water be gradually released into the Pacific.

Before turning to the BP oil spill impacts on dolphins, we must ask what are the impacts of Fukushima on them? Dolphins, although similar to us in many ways, seems more resistant. Nonetheless, like us, dolphins can get cancer, and so effects may be long-term. But, it could be more difficult to tell the impacts of Fukushima on dolphins, since the Japanese hunt and eat them! (see “Dolphins: Did you Know?” and links in notes at bottom for more info)

Mainstream and non-mainstream media alike have reported both strange marine deaths and sightings on the western coast of the US and Canada. Some blame global warming, others believe that this reflects impacts of Fukushima, i.e. sea animals being made ill by, or fleeing the radiation (see notes at bottom for more info). The non-mainstream suggest that whales are trying to warn us.

For the Gulf of Mexico Dolphin study: The BP oil spill occurred on April 20, 2010 and was ongoing until September 19, 2010. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_Deepwater_Horizon_oil_spill The Dolphins were evaluated in Florida during May 16 to 20, 2011 and in Barataria Bay, Louisiana, during August 3 to 16, 2011. Data from a previous health assessment by the Chicago Zoological Society at Sarasota Bay from May 17 to 21, 2010 was also included. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es403610f

Bottlenose Dolphin KSC04pd0178
Bottlenose Dolphin, five plus years before the BP spill, by NASA, via wikimedia

Study Shows Gulf Dolphins in Poor Health following Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill http://response.restoration.noaa.gov/about/media/study-shows-gulf-dolphins-poor-health-following-deepwater-horizon-oil-spill.html
Dolphin in BP oil Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries
A dolphin is observed with oil on its skin on August 5, 2010, in Barataria Bay, La. (Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries/Mandy Tumlin)

DECEMBER 18, 2013 — Barataria Bay, located in the northern Gulf of Mexico, received heavy and prolonged oiling after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This area is also home to many bottlenose dolphins.

In the wake of the spill, how healthy are dolphins living in this area? And how do they compare to dolphins living elsewhere?

As part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, a team of more than 50 government, academic, and non-governmental researchers assessed the health of bottlenose dolphins living in Louisiana’s Barataria Bay, which received heavy oiling following the Deepwater Horizon spill, and in Florida’s Sarasota Bay, which was not oiled following the spill.

The team of scientists and veterinarians temporarily captured live dolphins, performed comprehensive health examinations on them at the site, and then released them. The health exam included measuring each dolphin’s length and weight; doing a physical exam; sampling skin, blood, and blubber; and performing an ultrasound to evaluate their internal organs, particularly their lung condition and pregnancy status. The team has published the results of this study in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology.” [Editorial note: See abstract and link to article at bottom of this post]

We spoke with two of the NOAA scientists involved, Dr. Lori Schwacke and Dr. Teri Rowles, to learn more about the research and what their findings mean for dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico.

Q: When did you conduct the dolphin health assessments and what did you observe?

The first health assessments were conducted in the summer of 2011 in Barataria Bay, La., and in Sarasota Bay, Fla. We found that the dolphins in Barataria Bay were in very poor health. Many of them were underweight and their blood tests showed a number of abnormal conditions such as anemia, elevated markers of inflammation, and increased liver enzymes.

Also, one rather unusual condition that we noted in many of the Barataria Bay dolphins was that they had very low levels of some hormones (specifically, cortisol) that are produced by the adrenal gland and are important for a normal stress response. Under a stressful condition, such as being chased by a predator, the adrenal gland produces cortisol, which then triggers a number of physiological responses including an increased heart rate and increased blood sugar. This gives an animal the energy burst that it needs to respond appropriately. In the Barataria Bay dolphins, cortisol levels were unusually low. The concern is that their adrenal glands were incapable of producing appropriate levels of cortisol, and this could ultimately lead to a number of complications and in some situations even death.

We also found significant lung disease. We looked for several different abnormalities based on studies that have been done on captive animals, and what we saw was most consistent with pneumonia. In some of the animals, the lung disease was so severe that we considered it life-threatening for that individual.

Q: How serious were the conditions observed in dolphins from Barataria Bay?

Some of the conditions observed in these dolphins were very serious. Some of the animals had multiple health issues going on, such as lung disease, very high liver enzymes, and indications of chronic inflammation. The veterinarians assigned a prognosis for each animal and nearly half of the Barataria Bay dolphins were given a guarded (uncertain outcome) or worse prognosis. In fact, 17 percent of them were given a poor or grave prognosis, indicating that they weren’t expected to live.

In comparison, in Sarasota we had only one guarded prognosis and the rest were in good or fair condition. Sarasota dolphins were much healthier than Barataria Bay dolphins.

Q: Have you been able to follow up on the status of any of the dolphins examined during these assessments?

We know one of them died. Y12 was a 16-year-old male that we examined in August 2011. He was underweight and many of his blood parameters were out of the expected range. The veterinary team assigned him a grave prognosis. His carcass was recovered by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in January of 2012. So we know that he only survived a little over five months after the health assessment was conducted. But often carcasses aren’t recovered, and there were other dolphins that we examined that we didn’t expect to live for very long.
NOAA Dolphin health eval; washed up dead
Left, August 2011: Veterinarians collect a urine sample from Y12, a 16-year-old adult male bottlenose dolphin caught near Grand Isle, LA. Y12’s health evaluation determined that he was significantly underweight, anemic, and had indications of liver and lung disease.

Right, January 2012: The carcass of Y12 was recovered on Grand Isle Beach. The visible ribs, prominent vertebral processes and depressions along the back are signs of extreme emaciation. (NOAA)

We’re also conducting photographic monitoring studies to monitor the survival and reproductive success or failure of the dolphins we sampled. Several of the females we sampled in Barataria Bay were pregnant so we’ve been monitoring them around and past their due date to see whether or not we see them with a calf. The gestation period for a dolphin is around 12 months, so these monitoring studies take a little bit longer. We hope to report those results soon.

Q: Are the disease conditions observed in Barataria Bay dolphins—lung disease, compromised stress hormone response—consistent with those expected from exposure to oil?

The decreased cortisol response is something fairly unusual but has been reported from experimental studies of mink exposed to fuel oil. The respiratory issues are also consistent with experimental studies in animals and clinical reports of people exposed to petroleum hydrocarbons.

Q: How do you know these health impacts weren’t caused by other lingering pollutants in the Gulf?
Dolphins swimming near BP oil spill NOAA
Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, numerous dolphins were documented encountering oil, such as those in this photo from July 2010. (NOAA)

We analyzed the dolphins’ blubber to evaluate the levels of contaminants that have been previously reported in marine mammal tissues and then also linked with health effects. This covered a fairly broad suite of contaminants and included polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) as well as a suite of persistent pesticides that we know accumulate in dolphins over their lifetime, leaving a record of their exposure.

We found that the levels of these pollutants in Barataria Bay dolphins were actually lower than the levels in Sarasota Bay dolphins. The levels from Barataria Bay dolphins were also low compared to previously reported levels in dolphins from a number of other coastal sites in the southeastern U.S. Therefore, we don’t think that the health effects we saw can be attributed to these other pollutants that we looked at.

Q: Are there more dolphin health assessments currently taking place or planned for the future?

Yes, in the summer of 2013 we repeated the studies in Sarasota Bay and Barataria Bay and expanded the studies to Mississippi Sound, where we assessed dolphins both in Mississippi and in Alabama waters. Those samples and data are still being analyzed.

Q: Was there anything about this study that you found surprising?

The magnitude of the health effects that we saw was surprising. We’ve done these health assessments in a number of locations across the southeast U.S. coast and we’ve never seen animals that were in this poor of condition.

Q: How does this study relate to or inform the investigation of the high number of marine mammal strandings observed along the Gulf Coast since February 2010 (the Unusual Mortality Event), which pre-dates the Deepwater Horizon oil spill?

The Unusual Mortality Event that’s underway is in the same general geographic area as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response and overlaps with the Natural Resource Damage Assessment. These findings overlap with the high number of strandings, particularly in the Barataria Bay or central Louisiana area.

When you have a significant event like an oil spill or an Unusual Mortality Event, being able to study both live and dead animals provides more information about what might be going on as animals get ill and then die. Having access to findings from both of these studies enables us to look for commonalities between what we’re finding in the sick animals and what we’re finding in the dead animals to better evaluate causes and contributing factors.

Q: Outside of NOAA, who else did you work with to perform the health assessment?

This work was part of the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment being conducted cooperatively among NOAA, other federal and state trustees, and BP. This wouldn’t have been possible without the help of a number of our partners, including the National Marine Mammal Foundation, Chicago Zoological Society, and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Also, Seaworld and the Georgia Aquarium provided personnel to support our studies. Their expertise and experience were key to getting these studies done.

Watch a video of the researchers as they temporarily catch and give health exams to some of the dolphins in Barataria Bay, La., in August of 2011” (video and original article and pics at link: http://response.restoration.noaa.gov/about/media/study-shows-gulf-dolphins-poor-health-following-deepwater-horizon-oil-spill.html

Abstract of the New Peer Reviewed Study-Article:
Health of Common Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Barataria Bay, Louisiana, Following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
The oil spill resulting from the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform initiated immediate concern for marine wildlife, including common bottlenose dolphins in sensitive coastal habitats. To evaluate potential sublethal effects on dolphins, health assessments were conducted in Barataria Bay, Louisiana, an area that received heavy and prolonged oiling, and in a reference site, Sarasota Bay, Florida, where oil was not observed. Dolphins were temporarily captured, received a veterinary examination, and were then released. Dolphins sampled in Barataria Bay showed evidence of hypoadrenocorticism, consistent with adrenal toxicity as previously reported for laboratory mammals exposed to oil. Barataria Bay dolphins were 5 times more likely to have moderate–severe lung disease, generally characterized by significant alveolar interstitial syndrome, lung masses, and pulmonary consolidation. Of 29 dolphins evaluated from Barataria Bay, 48% were given a guarded or worse prognosis, and 17% were considered poor or grave, indicating that they were not expected to survive. Disease conditions in Barataria Bay dolphins were significantly greater in prevalence and severity than those in Sarasota Bay dolphins, as well as those previously reported in other wild dolphin populations. Many disease conditions observed in Barataria Bay dolphins are uncommon but consistent with petroleum hydrocarbon exposure and toxicity
.” http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es403610f

Dolphins: Did you Know?

From wikipedia:
Dolphins can exhibit altruistic behaviour toward other sea creatures. On Mahia Beach, New Zealand, on March 10, 2008,[84] two pygmy sperm whales, a female and calf, stranded on the beach. Rescuers, including Department of Conservation officer Malcolm Smith, attempted to refloat them four times. Shortly, a playful bottlenose dolphin known to local residents as Moko arrived and, after apparently vocalizing at the whales, led them 200 m (660 ft) along a sandbar to the open sea, saving them from imminent euthanasia.[85]”
“The species sometimes shows curiosity towards humans in or near water. Occasionally, they rescue injured divers by raising them to the surface. They also do this to help injured members of their own species.[92] In November 2004, a dramatic report of dolphin intervention came from New Zealand. Four lifeguards, swimming 100 m (330 ft) off the coast near Whangarei, were approached by a shark (reportedly a great white shark). Bottlenose dolphins herded the swimmers together and surrounded them for 40 minutes, preventing the shark from attacking, as they slowly swam to shore.[96]”
“Therapies for handicapped children can include interactions with bottlenose dolphins.[92]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bottlenose_dolphin (this, references and much more at wiki link)

Dolphins, though similar to humans in some ways, appear more resistant. This suggests that if they are faring poorly that the impacts might be worse for humans:
Dolphins can tolerate and recover from extreme injuries such as shark bites although the exact methods used to achieve this are not known. The healing process is rapid and even very deep wounds do not cause dolphins to hemorrhage to death. Furthermore, even gaping wounds restore in such a way that the animal’s body shape is restored, and infection of such large wounds seems rare.[29]

Along with whales and porpoises, dolphins are descendants of terrestrial mammals…

Dolphins also display culture, something long believed to be unique to humans (and possibly other primate species). In May 2005, a discovery in Australia found Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) teaching their young to use tools. They cover their snouts with sponges to protect them while foraging. This knowledge is mostly transferred by mothers to daughters, unlike simian primates, where knowledge is generally passed on to both sexes. Using sponges as mouth protection is a learned behavior.[42]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolphin (references at link)

NMMP dolphin with locator
K-Dog, trained by the US Navy to find mines and boobytraps underwater, leaping out of the water, via wikimedia

“The military of the United States and Russia train bottlenose dolphins as military dolphins for wartime tasks, such as locating sea mines and detecting enemy divers.[100][101] The USA’s program is the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program, located in San Diego.[102]” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bottlenose_dolphin (references at wiki link)

Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA)

The Oil Pollution Act authorizes certain federal agencies, states, and Indian tribes—collectively known as natural resource trustees—to evaluate the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on natural resources.
These trustees are responsible for studying the effects of the spill through a process known as Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA). As part of this process, scientists work together to identify potential injuries to natural resources and lost human uses resulting from the spill.

Notes, Further Reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolphin_drive_hunting http://pacificwhalewatchassociation.org http://vet.sagepub.com/content/43/6/865.full http://vet.sagepub.com/content/43/6/865/T4.expansion.html
Canadian Broadcasting Corp:
VIDEO: What’s going on in B.C.’s weird ocean waters? Scientists are just as puzzled as the rest of us
CBC News Posted: Nov 04, 2013 8:59 PM PT Last Updated: Nov 05, 2013 6:06 AM PT
This Ene news has links mostly to mainstream media and publications (e.g. CNN and National Geographic): http://enenews.com/cbc-news-something-very-odd-happening-in-pacific-sea-creatures-acting-strangely-species-turning-up-where-rarely-seen-related-to-fukushima-crisis-l-a-lifeguard-used-to-be-2-shark-sightings