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Gulf Wildlife Still Feeling Oily Impacts, Report Says

Deepwater Horizon oil may be buried these days, but the the Big Oozy's potential effects on wildlife are beginning to materialize on the surface. According to a new report released to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the Gulf oil disaster, the Macondo well's oil could be making its way up the marine life food chain.


The report, which was released by the National Wildlife Federation, tracks the effect of oil on 14 species commonly found in the Gulf of Mexico. The authors are particularly concerned about bottlenose dolphins and sea turtles, as well as seafood like oysters and red snapper. In each of those species, scientific studies undertaken in the wake of the disaster have found that oil has potentially lethal consequences.


In general, the authors point out that the scientific process will likely take years to draw definitve conclusions. They also call for the public release of more scientific studies that have been undertaken as part of legal proceedings in connection with the disaster.


In a statement responding to the report, BP called the report "a piece of political advocacy -- not science.


"It cherry picks reports to support the organization’s agenda, often ignoring caveats in those reports or mischaracterizing their findings," the BP statement says.


The report's authors are "particularly concerned" about bottlenose dolphins due to their place at the top of the food chain. About 900 dolphins have been found dead or stranded in the impacted area since the disaster, and the number of stranded dolphins has been between 3 and 7 times above historical averages each year since the disaster, the report notes.


Further, the report points to a 2013 NOAA study that found evidence of dolphins in Barataria Bay suffering ill health effects due to oil exposure.


BP disputed the report's characterization, saying the study remains ongoing.


" the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s own Web site states, that inquiry is ongoing, a number of potential causes are being investigated, and no definitive cause has yet been identified for the increase in strandings in the northern Gulf that began months before the accident," the company stated.


Similarly, at least 500 dead sea turtles have been found in the impacted area over the last three years, the report notes.


It is difficult to state precisely how far above normal these figures are, as a number of the carcasses were found in relatively remote areas, where they 
likely would have gone unreported before the spill," the report states. "However, NOAA estimates the number of turtle carcasses found  in the same four-state region would historically have been fewer than one hundred annually."


 The report also points to a recent study that showed developing bluefin tuna and other large fish suffered irregular heartbeats.

When it comes to oysters, the report suggests studies aren't definitive. However, the lack of available oysters in 2010 is cause for concern, the authors state.


"The reduction in spat recruitment in the years after the spill may be related to lasting effects of the oil, the absence of adult oysters, low salinity due to the 2011 river flood, or other factors that are not yet completely understood," the report says.


Not all species suffered, according to the National Wildlife Foundation. The report notes that oiled brown pelicans became the "iconic image" of the spill. However, the Foundation states that their population numbers since the disaster haven't raised alarms.


"The size of brown pelican populations, even in heavily-oiled areas, may not have been dramatically affected.The federal government has been studying potential impacts on the brown pelican as part of the oil spill litigation.


Nevertheless, information on brown pelicans may not be publicly available, the report states.


Read the full report here. 

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Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Alexis Manrodt, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde


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