How the Gulf Oil Spill May Harm Dolphins

Like sea turtles and birds, dolphins and other marine mammals are extremely vulnerable to the effects of oil. There are 35,000 to 45,000 bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the largest populations of dolphins off the coast of the U.S.

Bottlenose dolphin mother and calf

Unlike fish, dolphins need to come to the surface frequently to breathe. When they surface, they may come in contact with the oil slick that now covers thousands of square miles of the Gulf of Mexico.

Dolphins are smooth-skinned, hairless mammals with extremely sensitive skin—even more sensitive than human skin. Oil can cause chemical burns or skin irritation.

Dolphins may inhale oil and oil vapor. This may lead to damage of the airways, lung ailments, mucous membrane damage, or even death.

Oil may damage a dolphin’s eyes, which can cause ulcers, conjunctivitis, and blindness, making it difficult for them to find food, and sometimes causing starvation.

Ingesting oil can cause ulcers or internal bleeding.

Oil can impair a dolphin’s immune system and may cause secondary fungal or bacterial infections.

Oil may move up through the food chain as dolphins eat contaminated prey. Dolphins feed on fish and squid and spend much of their time in waters close to shore.

Dolphin calves may be poisoned as they can absorb oil through their mothers’ milk

Dolphins may experience stress and behavioral changes due to oil exposure.

Marine mammals are our closest relatives in the ocean—it’s heartbreaking that we have fouled their habitats and are potentially poisoning large numbers of these beautiful and intelligent animals. You can help by donating to The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, Gulfpost, MS

Most of this information in this post is from Effects of Maritime Oil Spills on Wildlife, on the Australian government website