Watch CBS News

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. 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.

BP set for 1st deep drilling in Gulf since spill
Special section: Disaster in the Gulf
Gulf oil spill revealed old, deep problems

"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.

Gulf Oil Spill: Anatomy of a Disaster
New evidence of more BP oil spill mistakes
Experts: BP Ignored Signs Before Gulf Disaster

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.