Government Gagging Order On Scientists Probing Dolphin Deaths

Gagging order on scientists probing dolphin deaths as U.S. builds criminal case against BP. Scientists probing the deaths of baby dolphins in the area affected by last year’s BP oil spill have been ordered by the government not to speak about the project. Wildlife biologists who have been contracted by the National Marine Fisheries Service to investigate a huge rise in dolphin mortality this year must keep their findings confidential. The gagging order was imposed because the review of the deaths is part of the federal criminal investigation into last year’s BP disaster. Death on the sands: Evidence from the spike in deaths in the last three months is being collected for a criminal case, civil litigation and a detailed study of the environmental effects of last year’s mammoth oil spill. A letter sent out to senior scientists who are not working on the project and are baffled by the silence, said: ‘Because of the seriousness of the legal case, no data or findings may be released, presented or discussed outside the investigative team without prior approval.’ About 90 dolphins died last year, but this year the toll has jumped to 200 already. Dr. Erin Fougeres, a marine biologist with the Fisheries Service, said: ‘We are treating the evidence, which are the dolphin samples, like a murder case. ‘The chain of custody is being closely watched. Every dolphin sample is considered evidence in the BP case now.’ Young victims: Up to 200 carcasses have been washed up along the Gulf’s shores since mid-January. The secrecy has angered many in the scientific community who are used to making their findings public and the free flow of information, Reuters reports. One biologist, who has been tracking dolphin deaths for more than 20 years and does not want to be named, said: ‘This throws accountability right out the window. We are confused and angry because they claim they want team work, but at the same time they are leaving the marine experts out of the loop completely.’ The Fisheries Service is a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, (NOAA). Unnatural disaster? The deaths coincide with the first calving season since the BP oil spill. Blair Mase, a marine mammal scientist for NOAA,said: ‘We have to be very methodical. The criminal investigation does play a role in the delay of findings, but it has to be done this way.’ The 200 carcasses, nearly all bottlenose dolphins, have been found along the shores of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Nearly half of them are either newly born or stillborn infants. It is the first dolphin calving season in the northern Gulf since BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded last April. Five million barrels (206 million gallons) of oil spewed into the Gulf after the blast which ruptured a wellhead on the sea floor and killed 11 workers. Some experts are speculating that the oil ingested or inhaled by dolphins during the spill has taken a belated toll on the animals, possibly leading to a wave of dolphin miscarriages. Aside from the criminal investigation Miss Mase said the carcasses also are potential evidence in a review of the damage to natural resources from the spill and the civil litigation case being pursued against BP. ((28 MAR 2011))



















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