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Their final conclusions could take weeks. But Solangi said if you're not really interested in dolphins and wonder why this matters so much, the next link on the chain of life, is humans "These animals are top of the food chain. They're mammals like you and I. They give birth to babies and are given milk, so they are good biological indicators of the environment. So ultimately, what happens to them will happen to us. So basically, they are the canary in the mine."
Bottom-feeding fish used as hog feed
Meanwhile, despite these concerns, bottom-feeding fish like mullet are currently being caught and eaten all over the Gulf, with the potential risk not being limited to direct human consumption of the fish, but indirectly by mullet being fed to hogs, as Dr. Norma Bowe of Kean University in New Jersey observed a few weeks ago. Striking up a conversation with some fishermen who were hauling in nets full of mullet from a pier in Long Beach, Mississippi, Dr. Bowe found out that one of the men was also a hog farmer who was catching the mullet to feed to his hogs. The hog farmer, who said he fishes from this pier every day, proudly told Bowe to just ask anybody and they'd tell her that his bacon, pork chops, ham hocks, and ribs are the best around, attributing the high quality of the meat from his hogs to their high protein fish diet. And, according to the fishermen that Bowe spoke to, these fish are also used in a variety of other products for both human and pet consumption -- from Omega-3 fish oil supplements to cat food. Part of this conversation was caught on video by one of Bowe's students.
Near-record numbers of manatees have died in Florida waters in early 2011, the second straight year of above-average deaths, alarming officials who are also puzzled by a surge in dolphin fatalities along the US Gulf Coast.
Of the 163 manatee deaths recorded from January 1 to February 25, 91 of them have been blamed on cold water temperatures off the southern US state, where normally temperate weather draws the protected sea creatures during winter months, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Manatees live near the coastline, and when weather turns cold they often shelter near springs or in warmer discharge canals at power plants to avoid the condition known as “cold stress,” which can weaken and eventually kill the aquatic mammals.
A record 185 manatees died in Florida during the same period last year, according to the commission.
Authorities at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are also investigating the huge increase in baby dolphins found washed up dead along the US Gulf Coast, in the first birthing season since the BP oil spill disaster.
Eighty-three bottle-nosed dolphins, more than half of them newborns, were found dead in January and February along the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, where millions of barrels of oil from a leaking undersea well poured into the Gulf of Mexico over three months.
“Direct or indirect effects of the BP/Deepwater Horizon spill event are… among the potential reasons for this increase in NOAA spokeswoman Kim Amendola said Wednesday.
“We have not found an indicator on what could be causing these deaths,” but said several factors could have contributed to the deaths including biotoxins, “red tide” algal blooms, or infectious disease, she said.
“We are following the situation closely,” she added.
The oil from the spill spread through the water column in massive underwater plumes and also worked its way into the bays and shallows where dolphins breed and give birth.
Dolphins breed in the spring — around the time of the April 20 explosion that brought down the BP-leased drilling rig — and carry their young for 11 to 12 months.