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(Reuters) - A federal agency's practice of returning weakened dolphins to deeper Gulf of Mexico waters is thwarting efforts to probe dolphin deaths after last year's BP oil spill, scientists said on Saturday.
Researchers said weakened and stranded dolphins should instead be rescued and tested.Moby Solangi, director for the Institute of Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi, said returning the dolphins to deeper waters also was undermining efforts to determine who is responsible for the rash of sea animal deaths in Gulf waters."We are not able to conduct necropsies on these animals any more either," Solangi said. "This is all because of the BP criminal investigation."
Meanwhile, wildlife biologists contracted by the National Marine Fisheries Service to document spikes in dolphin mortality and to collect specimens and tissue samples for the NOAA were quietly ordered in late February to keep their findings confidential.
"It would be a good idea to test a stranded dolphin, but I guess someone has to worry about the cost of taking the animal to a rehabilitation facility," Peterson said.
The relation between the oil spill and the dolphin deaths could be direct or indirect. The dolphin mothers may have ingested heavy metals in the oil or the chemicals used to disperse the oil, Solangi said. Or the oil eating bacteria that flourished during the summer may have caused an imbalance in the animals' guts, causing bacterial infections that may have caused the mothers to abort the calves.