We Knew the Dolphins Were Sick

The more we know, the worse it seems. And the stranger our memories become. BP must be held accountable for their damages. We knew it was bad. As we surveyed Barataria Bay, one of the most heavily impacted areas by BP, we at GRN saw stranded and dead dolphins throughout 2010 and 2011. Response data –open to the public until October 2010 — have shown that dolphins have washed up in many locations across the Gulf, and many in Barataria. The mortality event that began in 2010 has claimed more than 900 bottlenose dolphins to date, and many more lost beneath the waters, never to wash ashore. But more than three years after BP’s well was capped, NOAA is now able to release a dolphin health study showing that one in five Barataria dolphins in 2011 was close to death. This study was on live dolphins captured and examined for sub-lethal impacts–were the dolphins we saw swimming by our boats all that time ok? We knew they weren’t, but we hoped. Now that hope has been outlined by odds ratios. It was a 50 / 50 shot whether the animals that we saw were ill. One out of five of the dolphins we regularly saw could have been dying before our eyes. From the boat, the mammals were often taken as a sign of hope. Dolphins are symptomatic of the health of the entire system — it the top predator’s population is crashing, it is a signal that there is, simply, less life, less overall biological activity, less of an ecosystem. The Gulf itself is diminished. Moreover, given the similarities of our own biology to this creature, we now know what will happen to people who swim in waters so polluted, or even work on them regularly. One of the most difficult thing about continuing to monitor for these impacts is the way the information is secreted and released slowly, after you’d want to know it. I have many fond memories of dolphins jumping through the waters of Barataria Bay in 2010 and 2011. This new information can cast a harsh light on those memories, fouling them. As a scientist, I am familiar with how long it does take to carefully and logically parse data into information. But as a human being, the reevaluation of my memories does not come easily. I continue to mourn the Gulf, although I don’t know all of what I’m mourning. And I know that more bad news is to come. All the more reason then, that BP must be made to pay for every life lost. Please write the Justice Department in their memory. Scott Eustis, M.S., is GRN’s Coastal Wetland Specialist.

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