The Deepwater Horizon oil spill began on 20 April, 2010 and resulted in the largest oil spill in the history of the U.S, contaminating over 1,600 kilometers of coastline and nearshore waters along the northern Gulf of Mexico, including Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle.
The oil spill was potentially an additional stressor to bottlenose dolphins in a region that had already been impacted by a series of four Unusual Mortality Events (UMEs) since 1999.
Studies to assess the potential impacts to bottlenose dolphins in the Northern Gulf were initiated as part of the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment which included photo-identification surveys to estimate abundance for three estuarine dolphin stocks in the region.
One of these study sites was St. Joseph Bay, located along Florida’s northern Gulf of Mexico coastline. St. Joseph Bay was impacted by three prior UMEs, and was the geographic focus of the UME in which more than 100 dolphins stranded during March and April 2004.
Since 2004, SDRP researchers have led and been involved with multiple projects (health assessments, photo-identification, remote biopsy sampling, and telemetry) focusing on the health and population structure of dolphins within this region. Thanks to a grant from the CZS Chicago Board of Trade Endangered Species Fund and additional support from Penn Clarke and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, follow-up photo-identification surveys in St. Joseph Bay were conducted October 2013 to estimate abundance and determine if the new dolphins sighted following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill have remained in the region.
This article was published on pages 5-6 in the January 2014 Nicks n Notches.