Link between BP spill and dolphin deaths investigated

Oil sheen is seen near the source of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill on July 18, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana. Scientists are concerned about leakage spotted near BP's oil well which appeared to be sealed. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) Getty Images/Mario Tama

Oil sheen is seen near the source of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill on July 18, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana.
Getty Images/Mario Tama

The federal government still has no idea if the April 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused the deaths of hundreds of dolphins.

Since early 2010, an unusually high number of marine mammals -- 580, mostly dolphins -- have stranded and died off the coast of Louisiana to Florida. On Thursday, officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency that tracks marine mammal deaths, announced that a bacteria called Brucella was found in five bottlenose dolphins that died in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

According to information posted on the Centers for Disease Control's website, Brucella can cause an infectious disease that can be spread to humans if they come in contact with animals contaminated with the bacteria. Symptoms in humans may include fever, sweats, headaches, back pains, and physical weakness.

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"At this point we don't know if it is related to the BP oil spill or not," said Dr. Teri Rowles, NOAA's lead marine mammal veterinarian and coordinator for the National Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program.

One working theory NOAA is exploring is whether the crude oil that spilled weakened the immune system of the mammals which allowed them to get sick. NOAA officials told journalists on a conference call late Thursday afternoon that it'll be "quite some time" before it will known if the oil played a role or not.

NOAA officials warn "anyone who sees a stranded dolphin in the Gulf of Mexico region to call 877-WHALE HELP (877-942-5343). The stranded dolphin should not be touched, and pets should be kept away from the dolphin as well. The NOAA also says the public should also avoid touching live dolphins in the wild.

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  • Pia Malbran

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