Scientists are examining the deaths of at least six dolphins and over 100 sea turtles along the U.S. Gulf Coast in recent weeks to see if they are victims of the giant oil spill in the region, wildlife officials said on Thursday.
All of the deaths are being looked at as possible casualties of the oil gushing unchecked since April 20 from a ruptured wellhead on the floor of the Gulf off Louisiana because of their proximity in time and space to the spill.
But none of the dolphins or turtles examined showed any obvious visible signs of oil contamination.
Necropsies -- the animal equivalent of autopsies -- are being performed, and tissue samples analyzed to determine if oil ingestion caused the deaths. The results are expected to take about two weeks.
"So far we have not seen any relationship with the deaths of either the turtles or the dolphins to oil," Dr. Moby Solangi, head of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, told Reuters TV in Gulfport, Mississippi.
But Solangi added it was only a matter of time before the spilled oil began affecting the dolphin population. "There is no question that the oil is in their habitat," he said.
Connie Barclay, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said scientists were investigating the deaths of six dolphins and 117 sea turtles along the coast of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida since April 30.
Sources close to the Gulf's wildlife spill-response teams put the number of dolphin deaths at seven.
Either way, federal wildlife officials said dolphin and turtle mortality seen since the oil rig explosion off Louisiana last month is not unusually high for this time of year.
Photo shows a dead sea turtle collected on the beach by a worker from the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Mississippi May 4, 2010 before an oil spill is expected to hit the beaches in the next few days. Credit: Reuters/Rick Wilking