Deadly bacteria found in dolphins stranded since BP spill

NOAA officials are saying the BP oil spill could have played a role in the deaths of dolphins in unusually high numbers in the northern Gulf, but they said further testing is needed to draw any conclusions.

The lead marine mammal veterinarian with NOAA announced today that five of the 580 dolphins that have died since 2010 in the northern Gulf, including some of the fetuses, died from a marine version of a bacteria that kills goats, sheep, cattle, pigs, elk and dogs.

Three fetuses and two adult bottlenose dolphin were found to have the bacterium brucella in their lungs or brains.

Teri Rowles, NOAA’s lead marine mammal veterinarian and coordinator for the National MarineMammal Health and Stranding Response Program, said she knows of no other case where there has been a high mortality rate with brucellosis in dolphins.

She said it is too early to tell what role the BP oil spill might have played in the dolphin deaths. Earlier this year, before the normal birthing season, dolphin fetuses were washing ashore along Mississippi and Alabama beaches in record numbers.

“We believe these five dolphins died from brucellosis," she said. "Die-offs from bacterial infections could be occurring because the bacterium has become more lethal, but they could also be occurring, or be more severe, because the dolphins are more susceptible to infection. Severe environmental stress, including from exposure to oil, could have reduced the animals’ ability to fight infection."