This winter an distressingly high number of young bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico (map) have been washing up dead on U.S. shores, government scientists report.
The reason for the die-off is a mystery, and experts are urging caution in drawing any connections to last year's BP oil spill.
Since January 1, 80 dead dolphins have been found along the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, according to the latest NOAA figures.
Forty-two of the dead were calves. Most of the juvenile dolphins are washing up in Mississippi and Alabama, because dolphins usually give birth and raise calves along the shallow shores of those states.
The normal gestation period for the dolphins is one year, and mothers typically give birth in March and April, so scientists think the affected calves are either being aborted, stillborn, or born prematurely.
Known causes of dolphin die-offs include oddly cold waters, ocean biotoxins, and diseases. NOAA's Mase said scientists are investigating all of these factors and are not ruling out a likely connection to the BP oil spill. "It's something that we are including in our investigation," Mase said.
IMMS scientists are at present performing necropsies on the dead dolphins to try to conclude causes of death. The process—including analyzing tissue samples for signs of diseases, viral infections, and toxins—could take some weeks or months, Solangi said.