Four Dead Baby Dolphins Found in Mississippi Gulf

Four dead baby dolphins were discovered on Horn Island, Mississippi, and another was found on Ono Island off Orange Beach, Ala., both part of the tourist-popular Gulf Islands National Seashore. The finds bring the total of dead dolphins to 28 this year along the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, an usually high number.

The Mississippi Gulf Coast and Alabama Golf Coast both draw tourists for their beaches, seafood and outdoor activities.

Bodies of baby dolphins have been discovered since Jan. 20, on islands, in marshes and on beaches along 200 miles of coastline from Louisiana east across Mississippi to Gulf Shores, Alabama, officials said.

The number of dead baby dolphins is 10 times the amount normally found washed up along those states during this time of the year, which is calving season for some 2,000 to 5,000 dolphins in the region, said Moby Solangi, director of the Institute of Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, reports Reuters. There were 89 reported in all of 2010.

Most of the dolphin carcasses, measuring just over 3 feet in length, were found during the past week.

One possible cause being looking at it in the dolphins deaths is the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico after a BP drilling platform exploded in April 2010, killing 11 workers and rupturing a wellhead on the sea floor. An estimated 5 million barrels (205.8 million gallons) of oil spilled into the Gulf for more than three months, news outlets report.

Steve Tellis, a local environmental activist and member of the Nature Conservancy in Mississippi, called the discoveries of the dead baby dolphins "horrific."

But Solangi, director of the Institute of Marine Mammal Studies, says to Reuters, "It's an anomaly," explaining that the gestation period for dolphins runs 11 or 12 months, meaning that calves born now would have been conceived at least two months before the oil spill began.

None of the carcasses bore any obvious outward signs of oil contamination, but scientists are performing tests and taking tissue samples to determine if toxic chemicals from the oil spill may have been a factor in the deaths.

"When the world sees something like baby dolphins washing up on shore, it pulls at the heartstrings, and we all want to know why," said Blair Mase, marine mammal strandings coordinator for the Southeast region of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, reports the news outlet.

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