Four years after the biggest oil spill in U.S. history, several species are still struggling to recover. Bottlenose dolphins and sea turtles in particular are dying in record numbers, and a new report shows evidence that their demise is directly related to the spill. Doug Inkley, senior scientist for the National Wildlife Foundation, issued the report highlighting some of the impacts the oil has had on wildlife.
One of the most disturbing facts is the high number of dolphin deaths in the Gulf since the spill. Over 900 bottlenose dolphins have been found dead in the spill area. We know this is more than usual because scientists have been recording deaths in the Gulf for over a decade. As a top predator, the dolphin falling ill is a bad sign that species further down the food chain are also having trouble. “When you have sick dolphins, it tells you there’s a problem here and it needs to be investigated,” Inkley stated.
The sea turtle is another indicator of ecosystem health, and there isn’t good news for them either. The Gulf is home to 5 different species of sea turtle, all of which are listed as threatened or endangered by the Endangered Species Act. Each year since 2011, about 500 dead sea turtles have been found in the spill zone. This again is a dramatic increase over normal rates.
A few more concerning facts regarding the 2010 spill:
- The chemicals in oil from the spill are causing irregular heartbeats in the embryos of bluefin and yellowfin tuna
- Loons are carrying increasing concentrations of toxic oil compounds in their blood
- Sperm whales that swam near the well have higher levels of DNA damaging metals in their bodies than in the past
- Dolphins are underweight, anemic, and showing signs of liver and lung diseases
Inkley says we are a long way from understanding the full impact of the spill, and restoring the oiled ecosystems is the ultimate goal. The National Wildlife Foundation will continue monitoring wildlife in the oiled region.
Read more on the effects of the spill 4 years later and get a access to Inkley’s full report here!