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A photo of a dead sea turtle covered in oil.

A dead sea turtle lies in oil in Louisiana's Barataria Bay in 2010.

PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Christine Dell'Amore

National Geographic

Published April 8, 2014

Four years after the biggest oil spill in U.S. history, several species of wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico are still struggling to recover, according to a new report released today.

In particular, bottlenose dolphins and sea turtles are dying in record numbers, and the evidence is stronger than ever that their demise is connected to the spill, according to Doug Inkley, senior scientist for the National Wildlife Federation, which issued the report. (See "Gulf Oil Spill: One Year Later.")

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 people and spewing more than 200 million gallons (750 million liters) of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Since then, various government agencies and nonprofits, including the National Wildlife Federation, have been studying the region's wildlife to track the impacts of the oil.

A photo of two dolphins swimming through oil in the ocean.
A pod of bottlenose dolphins swim in the oily Chandeleur Sound, Louisiana, in 2010.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ALEX BRANDON, AP

The report, a compilation of published science since the spill, reveals that "the Gulf oil spill is far from over," Inkley said.

"The oil is not gone: There is oil on the bottom of the Gulf, oil is washing up on the beaches, and oil is still on the marshes," he said.

"I am not surprised by this. In Prince William Sound, 25 years after the wreck of Exxon Valdez, there are still some species that have not fully recovered." (Related: "Oil From the Exxon Valdez Spill Lingers on Alaska Beaches.")

However, BP, which operated the now-defunct oil well, claims that the report "is a piece of political advocacy—not science.

"For example, the report misrepresents the U.S. government's investigation into dolphin deaths; as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's own Web site states, that inquiry is ongoing," BP said in a statement provided to National Geographic.

"The report also conveniently overlooks information available from other independent scientific reports showing that the Gulf is undergoing a strong recovery. Just this week, a study published by Auburn University researchers found no evidence that the spill impacted young red snapper populations on reefs off the Alabama coast."

Hit Hard

The report examined 14 species that live in the Gulf. Those include:

—More than 900 bottlenose dolphins have been found dead or stranded in the oil spill area since April 2010. If you stretched the corpses lengthwise, that's 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) of dead dolphins, Inkley said. Scientists know that is more than in previous years because they've been recording deaths and strandings in the Gulf for a decade.

Ongoing research also shows that dolphins swimming in oiled areas are underweight, anemic, and showing signs of liver and lung diseases. (Related: "U.S. Dolphin Deaths Rise to 300; Cause Still a Mystery.")

A top predator like the dolphin falling ill is a sign that species further down the food chain are also having trouble, Inkley said.

"When you have sick dolphins, it tells you there's a problem here and it needs to be investigated."

—There are five species of sea turtle that live in the Gulf, and all of them are listed as threatened or endangered by the Endangered Species Act. About 500 dead sea turtles have been found in the spill region every year since 2011—"a dramatic increase over normal rates," according to the NWF. What's unknown is how many turtles died at sea and were never recovered by scientists.

—An oil chemical from the spill has been shown to cause irregular heartbeats in the embryos of bluefin and yellowfin tuna. That's a critical stage of development for the fish, so there's a lot of concern that the damage could cause heart attacks or deaths, Inkley said. (Related: "Odd Animal Deaths, Deformities Linked to Gulf Oil Spill?")

—Loons, birds that winter on the Louisiana coast, are carrying increasing concentrations of toxic oil compounds in their blood.

—Sperm whales that swam near the BP well have higher levels of DNA-damaging metals in their bodies than in the past. The metals in their bodies, such as chromium and nickel, are the same ones that were present in the well.

Long Way to Go

Overall, "we have a long way to go in understanding the full impact," Inkley said.

To that end, NWF and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will continue monitoring wildlife in the oiled region—the latter is required to do so by the Oil Pollution Act.

Restoring the oiled ecosystems is a goal, Inkley said, but he added oil is tough to remove, especially in marshes and in the deep ocean. That's why NWF is emphasizing prevention—in particular, adopting alternative energy resources that are not carbon-based and won't cause oil spills.

"I'm still haunted by the 'walking dead' brown pelicans covered head to toe in the oil," added Inkley.

"We must not let this happen again."

Read the full text of the report below.

 


Follow Christine Dell'Amore on Twitter and Google+.

53 comments
Agata Szymczak
Agata Szymczak

Four years after the biggest oil spill in U.S. history...as we learned from Exxon Valdez... it is possible that innocent organisms will be wasting their life by another 20 years...

Jenn Buchanan
Jenn Buchanan

Things have to change...NOW!!! Or everything as we know it....will not be any more. CHANGE FOR THE BETTER.....NOW!!!!

Charlene Loyd
Charlene Loyd

So so sad so many sweet bottle nose dolphins and sea turtles dying.

Pedro C
Pedro C

Thanks for the report; a rarity in its content and implied acceptance of our responsibility.


There are aspects related to the use of the man-made chemicals that the Obama administration authorized as dispersants that can be argued t have made the environmental mayhem much larger than what it would have been. This was done for profit of the chemical companies in bed with the oil companies whose incompetence reminds us that we need a government on the side of individuals (humans and non-voting creatures that depend on our consciousness to live on Earth) and not reliant on for-profit interests for their data or excuse for lack thereof and consequent barbarism. 


Our collective barbarism empowers the profit of corporations and the debasement of who we are in who represents us, our government.



m s
m s

Okay so let's get some scientists over there to analyse the data they collected from the migrating dolphins that come from the gulf and go up the eastern coast (and whales and manatees) that have mysteriously died en masse since 2010 off the coasts of FL GA SC NC VA so that they can finally make the connection with those as well. It's amazing that these people missed that somehow when reports of these animals dieing like crazy were coming over the news.


These creatures don't stay in one place, the migrate every year, they use the gulf stream every year and the stream goes out from the gulf up the eastern side of the US. I cannot believe they can't put 2 + 2 together.

Lea Burrell
Lea Burrell

Amazing to note this oil spill occured in the Gulf of Mexico, not the Gulf of America. Yet I have been unable that anyone in the reporting world bothered to report how this a

And is effecting the country Mexico. How has Mexico and they're gulf towns who rely on fishing  are doing. How has this impacted the counrty of Mexico's economy.



Sharon  Herman
Sharon Herman

The National Wildlife Federation has been doing a wonderful job for our sake and the sake of the natural world around us....The horrible suffering caused by the spill of oil in the Gulf of Mexico would be made even more tragic if it doesn't end up drastically changing our relationship with fossil fuels (ending it)...If it's just more information to add to what was learned from the Valdez in Alaska....all we'll have is documentation of how it all went horribly wrong and how tragically we squandered the resources, full of beauty and life, of our land for want of the will to live in a  good way...

Bhavi Ramsu
Bhavi Ramsu

Don't know why these days we the people aren't still worried of....one day all will be lost and then we might have terrible times going on there...

Rodolfo Alonzo
Rodolfo Alonzo

Let's see the Asians like to catch sharks, cut off only the fins. For a soup considered a delicacy. The shark is not so fortunate. Hope nobody finds our ears tasty. The Oil Companies did not get Rich handing out money. Ironically oil makes them wealthy. Mother Nature sick when their is a mishap on land or water. We drive around depositing carbon in the air. And can not do with out our automobiles. Yes we may be ruining the Oceans with trash, oil, over fishing, shark fin soup no predators. But hey you look sort of high class at your Wedding in Asia. Still can drive around till the air quality starts to resemble China or India. Maybe like a Black Hole our ignorance is spinning us toward our demise. So how do we get smart? Do look toward me for an answer. Rocket Scientist not on board.

Don Duca
Don Duca

Conspicuous in its absence from this article is any mention of the real culprit in this disaster, the chemical oil dispersant COREXIT. The writer only dared to venture close to the issue with the cryptically worded: "An oil chemical from the spill has been shown to cause irregular heartbeats in the embryos of bluefin and yellowfin tuna..." The toxicity of COREXIT is magnitudes worse than the oil alone.

Virginia Cutchin
Virginia Cutchin

This is nauseatingly sad. What is it going to take to get people to CARE? Those who don't are either ignorant, greedy, psychopathic or have never experienced profound loss. Maybe a combination of those. Those who care will never forget; those who don't care seem to be doing all in their power to make sure we do forget.

Carol Green
Carol Green

According to researchers ( http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1755-263X.2011.00168.x/abstract ) for every stranding found on the coastline along the Gulf of Mexico, 50 dolphins have simply fallen to the sea floor.  This equates to 900 dolphins * 50 == 45,000 dead dolphins.  And thousands more who are currently seriously ill and dying from lung cancer and anemia from the carcinogenic elements within oil.  In what world is it okay to kill 45,000 dolphins for humans?


This past January, New Jersey Congressman Rush D. Holt Jr. stated at a Congressional Hearing on Capitol Hill that the U.S. Department of Energy has stated that wind turbines along our coasts would produce much more energy than the United States even uses.  He called our coasts "the Saudi Arabia of wind".


Only about 3% of the oil we use is for products -- and we could easily get that oil from land-based extraction where spills can be easily contained and cleaned up..  All other energy needs could be, and should be, converted to using pure electric produced by wind and solar.  By far, oil used in this country is for transportation and that is totally unnecessary.  My prius hybrid gets 55 to 60 mpg on average and in a heartbeat i'd go pure electric if our condo association provided exterior outlets for us.


According to the non-profit SkyTruth  ( http://thelensnola.org/2014/01/22/volunteers-use-airborne-patrols-satellite-photos-to-spot-oil-spills-along-louisiana-coast/  )who has evaluated the more than 4,400 oil spills that occur per year off the Louisiana Coast into the Gulf of Mexico, there are between 1.5 and 2.2 million gallons of oil that are spilled off the Louisiana Coast per year into the Gulf.  Throughout time they have witnessed a large decrease in the amount of life they see when doing flyovers.  Elements within oil are carcinogens; sperm whales within the Gulf of Mexico are the most polluted in the world:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Geqs50-Cyc0 . 


Decades following Exxon Valdez and STILL you did an inch in the sand and there is oil and STILL the marine life and wild life have not come back.  *ALL* offshore drilling needs to end; it is not our right to destroy the habitat intelligent species, such as dolphins, require in order to survive, and it is CERTAINLY not to our right to sicken and kill them with oil. 

Hilda Roberts
Hilda Roberts

For as long as mankind's greed rules and responsibility to care for mother earth is less important we will continue to experience environmental problems.  We can not trust individuals/corporations to do the right thing and our only course is the establishment of stricter laws by the governments.  But how do you monitor individuals and corporations actions?  The Exxon Valdez oil spill was caused by both individual and corporate negligence.

Henry Lawrence III
Henry Lawrence III

Thousands of lawsuits are still pending much of it having to do with the Corexit chemical dispersant that was used to basically HIDE the oil and sink it to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.  Poisoning the home of wildlife for generations including we humans is secondary to the profit motive which capitalism breeds. Destruction is the Destination.

Timothy Senior
Timothy Senior

At the time of the oil spill and even more now I feel that the only thing worse than the disaster itself was the use of dispersants.  They were used to hide the true scope of the spill, but they did nothing to remove the oil from the ocean.  

Robert Pizzi
Robert Pizzi

If I'm not mistaken. That well still leaks to this very day. It can and will happen again. Oil money greed. We are destroying mother earth at a record pace.

Lewis Gallagher
Lewis Gallagher

"a dramatic increase over normal rates," an what we do ?????  With "various government agencies"..........sleep.

Govind Soni
Govind Soni

This is what we all dont want to be happen but the truth is very hard to accept.....indeed government need to think strongly to save those animal....

LARRY MARTIN
LARRY MARTIN

So why don't we pull the officers of BP Oil out of their cushy digs and beat the tar out of them?  Seriously, the government isn't going to punish them so why not us?

Maas WEERABANGSA
Maas WEERABANGSA

The Oil Companies will have to find a solution to avoid oil spills in the future. In addition they will also have to ensure that in case there is an oil spill, immediate action be taken to ensure that marine life is not endangered due to the oil spill. Otherwise humanity will be the end sufferer on the long run. Hence Oil Companies be ware !  

uni corn
uni corn

A thought provoking article,it's the right time to wake-up or we have to pay in future

Mark Meyer
Mark Meyer

BLAH BLAH BLAH.  Corporations are bad but you need what they sell.  Stop the bleeding heart liberal insanity.  

Trisha James
Trisha James

If the sea life and wildlife has been affected, just imagine the liability if BP admitted that the human health of VOO, cleanup workers and coastal residents have been affected. Nothing like being the guinea pig for first-time subsea dispersant use. Both corexits have ONLY BEEN tested on rats. The in situ burning was unacceptable.  The ten-year human health program by NIH is only monitoring those affected and the latest study report from Dale Sandler was discouraging to say the least. Maybe BP propaganda working with the EPA and Homeland Security is just untouchable when it comes to the safety and well being of a U.S. citizen. By the people, FOR THE PEOPLE.

Ziggy Pop
Ziggy Pop

And the US has given BP permission to start drilling again in our precious gulf waters once again. And this disaster is not over!

Tom Young
Tom Young

Has BP issued a press release yet challenging these findings? If not, I'm sure they will within hours. Check their propaganda web site, stateofthegulf.com. It is delay, deny and defend with these Bad People and their Broken Promises.



Trisha Springstead
Trisha Springstead

@Lea Burrell  Lea the Gulf of Mexico is in the US.  Might want to do some homework on this.  I live on the Gulf and it is not good.

Carol Green
Carol Green

@Mark Meyer According to the Department of Energy, wind turbines along our coasts would produce far more electricity than the United States even uses.  The coasts are considered "the Saudi Arabia of wind".  Only about 3% of the oil we use is for products-- and we could easily get that oil from land-based extraction where spills can be easily cleaned up.  *ALL* offshore drilling needs to end; 2.2 million gallons of oil are spilled into the Gulf of Mexico every year by tens of thousands of offshore rigs:  it is not our right to destroy the habitat intelligent species like dolphins require to live, and it is CERTAINLY not to our right to sicken and kill them with oil.

jared guerra
jared guerra

@Mark Meyer - not so much liberal insanity as it is human insanity for all the technology to be wasted on more garbage rigging techniques than to simply let go of oil for a purely clean alternative that would ultimately save the earth such as what the US NAVY is doing... kudos to the men and women for using saltwater as a fuel alternative instead of actually toxic chemicals for the fueling of subs, aircraft, and ships. Of course military technology will take its time be to revealed and utilized for the rest of the nation and world but like computers and safety gear, other alternatives NEED to be recognized for the safety of our flora and fauna via land, sea, or the skies.

LARRY MARTIN
LARRY MARTIN

@Mark Meyer  Why don't you stop the cowardly inability to speak truth to power?  And if you want to talk about insanity, go look in the mirror and babble on because only an insane person would put up with this kind of blatant destruction of the world we have to live in.

CA Leeson
CA Leeson

@Mark Meyer so it is okay that the air you breath, the food you eat and the liquids you drink are poisonous?

Adam King
Adam King

@Mark Meyer  Drew Miller can get on this as well. Its just population control, no offense ;o)

Drew Miller
Drew Miller

@LARRY MARTIN @Mark Meyer It is a shame what happened, but pretty much the entire world runs on oil.  Unless you both ride bicycles or walk EVERYWHERE, you have no right to attack Mr. Meyer.

angelo c.
angelo c.

@Gerard...


Troll. An uneducated one to boot.

R. Huber
R. Huber

Wow @Gerard Van der Leun! All you did there was make yourself look like a jerk about what @Tom Young was saying, and what most environmentalists or environmentally aware are thinking. You can decrease your petroleum usage by not buying plastics which I avoid purchasing, Gerard. I use my bike or walk far more than my car decreasing my dependence on the gas pump, Gerard. I grow my own food or purchase my food from the farmers market, therefore decreasing my dependence, Gerard. I live in a cottage squatted in the sand on the Gulf, Gerard. Decreasing your dependency on oil, that's the way to really Nat Geo, Gerard. It's not that hard to be aware, proactive, and not a jerk, Gerard.   

Isabel Barbosa
Isabel Barbosa

I am not as environmentally sound as you are...but i agree with you!

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