Florida Man Examines Oil Spill Dolphin Deaths

Randall S. Wells is helping federal researchers asses the health of dolphins in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Sunday, Apr 20, 2014  |  Updated 12:04 PM EDT
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Florida Man Examines Oil Spill Dolphin Deaths

A south Florida man's work is helping researchers better understand long-term damage to dolphins from the massive 2010 BP oil spill.

The Bradenton Herald reported on Sunday that Randall S. Wells is helping federal researchers asses the health of dolphins in the northern Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast in the Barataria Bay region. Wells is the director of the Chicago Zoological Society's Sarasota Dolphin Research Program at the Mote Marine Laboratory.

Wells regularly surveys a control group of about 160 dolphins living in the Sarasota Bay region and compares the health of those dolphins with the Louisiana dolphins.

So far, he has found that the south Florida dolphins are healthier than the Louisiana dolphins. But Wells says more study is needed to fully determine how the spill impacted dolphin populations.

According to research that Wells contributed to, Barataria Bay dolphins suffered evidence of severe lung disease, lung masses and adrenal toxicity.

But Wells said there isn't enough research yet to definitely link the dolphins' health problems to the oil spill even though their health issues are consistent with what is expected to happen when the animals are exposed to oil.

"I don't think we know enough yet, we must complete last year's and this year's health assessments, and see what kind of trend comes out of the data," he said.

Early findings showed that 48 percent of the Barataria Bay dolphins were given prognosis of guarded or worse while only 7 percent of the Sarasota Bay dolphins were given such a prognosis.

Charlie Hunsicker, Manatee County's director of parks and natural resources, said he hopes healthy dolphin populations in Sarasota and elsewhere can help repopulated the damaged areas.

Unaffected areas can provide resiliency for Gulf-wide marine species or animals, he said.

"That analogy applies to Gulf-wide environments that can provide and reset the environmental clock for the damaged areas because they are resilient, diverse and abundant," he said.

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