The situation with dolphins’ deaths in Peru does not get any easier or clearer. In our previous blog posts several possible causes were discussed along with a discussion on why some causes are very unlikely. Since then more information has been coming in and it gets more suspicious and confusing. But one thing is clear: the situation is abnormal and should be thoroughly investigated.
Some new details:
1. We now know species that stranded, no botllenose dolphins like we reported before, just two species: Long beaked common dolphin (Delphinus capensis) and Burmeister’s porpoise (Phocoena spinipinnis), plus fish and sea lions (!)
2. The Oil and Gas Company BPZ came out and publicly denied any involvement (naturally, does anybody else really expect them to admit anything?). But they inadvertently also gave up some important information, namely that they have indeed been operating “311 mi north of Lambayeque where the deaths have been reported”
Some Important and Strange Finds:
1. Peru’s media (Peru 21) reports new portion of dolphins’ carcasses being found in San Jose Mórrope, Lambayeque. The president of the Association of Fishermen of Puerto Eten, Niquen Francisco, said that this time it’s about 300 dolphins’ carcasses were found along with dozens of sea lions and fish of various species. Now, this is very important and complicates the situation even more. There were initial reports of dead anchovies found floating at sea. But none washed ashore until this recent report. The fact that we now have fish and sea lions might indicate some sort of pathogen that works its way through the food chain like red tide or something. This is a good news for the oil company, right? Since they are off the hook now. Not necessarily. Had this been a red tide or other pathogen related die off we would have seen fish, sea lions and dolphins washing out dead starting on February 8. But it did not happen. In fact this is a first report that includes sea lions and fish. Besides, airguns can also kill fish as it will be discussed below. On the other hand, the dolphin die off is multispecies (i,e. common dolphin and Burmeister’s porpoise) but it happened before with mass stranding of pilot whales, kogias and minke whales in North Carolina in 2005. This mass stranding was associated with Navy sonar.
Conflicting Reports From Peru
Now, this is another frustrating development. On a positive note, Peru’s officials finally started to move (sloo-owly) and the regional head of the Instituto del Mar del Peru ( IMARPE ), Edgar Barriga said that a delegation has been sent to investigate the situation.
But as for the cause now various experts and entities come out and state a range of possible causes for die off.
1. Rare Epidemic caused by pollution and oil spill (Stefan Austermühle, director of the NGO Mundo Azul)
2. Toxins and Noise are not the causes, no damage to internal organs (chairman of the board of IMARPE, Admiral Germain Vasquez). They only investigated 325 carcasses (Note: with decomposed carcasses the probability of detecting emboli diminishes rapidly after death and the testing has to be done asap, Bernaldo de Quiros et al., 2011)
3. “Hemorrhagic lesions in the middle including the acoustic chamber, fractures in the periotic bones, bubbles in blood filling liver and kidneys (animals were diving, so the main organs were congested), lesionsin the lungs compatible with pulmonary emphysema, sponge-like liver” Carlos Yaipen from NGO Orca
4. Finally Deputy Minister of Fisheries, Patricia Majluf, noted that a group has been coordinating with the foreign researchers conducting a study to see if any virus would be killing marine animals.
The Bottom Line:
Clearly, some forces are trying to direct discussion in regard to this die off towards the pathogen/viruses being a likely cause. They will also settle for fishermen in their small dinghies causing the largest recording die off in decades /sarcasm/ Because if the cause will be found as “natural” or if some scapegoat with no means to defend itself (i.e. fishermen) can be found no implications will follow for anyone. The recent finding of dead fish and sea lions might reinforce this line of thinking. But ask yourself, first why we have not seen dead fish and sea lions in the beginning of the event?
Next, very important fact. Fish could also be affected and die as a result of seismic surveys airguns. As you can imagine this area is also extremely controversial as oil and gas funded scientists try to diffuse the industry responsibility stating that there is no effect whatsoever. However this report shows that airguns can kill fish as well: “809 (7.6 percent) of a total of 10,676 (airguns) shots killed or injured 59.277+ fish.” There was also another report that seismic surveys caused squid die offs in 2001 and 2003.
We are extremely concerned that Peru’s officials might assemble a team of Navy/Oil Gas Industry funded scientists that will try to move the cause away from the anthropogenic noise area. Please keep this discussion going and keep pressuring officials to do the best possible investigation by involving only independent scientists.
UPDATE: 04/18/2012: More developments to report. More strandings including a live stranding which is also important. BlueVoice.org who was on the scene wrote a long article in Huff Post without even mentioning BPZ or seismic surveys once, calling the die off a “mystery”. Most importantly, reports are coming in that Peruvian Government suspended 3D seismic surveys until the investigation is complete. We hope people will realize what this means. As of now BPZ is loosing money. But it is even more serious than that. If BPZ is implicated as a possible cause here it has a potential to unleash some sort of avalanche of problems for offshore drilling companies. It could include tighter regulations, exclusions of some areas, possible law suits, you name it. Thus it is extremely important for the industry not to let this happen. And this is what we see happening now. They will either continue to call it a “mystery” or will blame the die off on anything starting with parasites and ending with PBCs as long as the seismic survey is not named as a factor. Watch how this will unfold…
UPDATE: 04/19/2012: The numbers are changing, apparently 877 dolphins not 3000, species are changing too, one newspaper reports that dolphins were bottlenose. Peru officials are now nearly certain it was morbillivirus. You know what they say, one who seeks finds. If not a virus, they’ll find something else because wild populations always have some issues going, just like any terrestrial populations or any 100 random people you stop on a street and test.
What we are watching now is a spin process in progress, now NOAA is involved and it has a great record of getting Navy, Big Oil off the hook as they are never implicated in the USA. There are also various interests that try to use the situation to their advantage or to deflect blame from sensitive areas, like seismic testing. We watch all this locomotion with great sadness realizing how messed up everything in regards to stranding field is. Too many power players, too many competing interests, but the truth is out there, somewhere, sitting quietly in a corner waiting to be discovered. Because something did cause this die off, no doubt about that.
UPDATE: 04/28/2012: There are reports that 200 pelicans have been found dead now. So we have so far reports of 3 species of dolphins (bottlenose, common and porpoises), dead anchovies, dead fish of various types, dead sea lions and now dead pelicans. As strange as it might sound but there was some similar die off in 1995 in Mexico that also included dolphins and birds. Here is the conclusion from that 1995 report:
“Based on data presented here, we believe that the most plausible cause forthe die-offs in the Upper Gulf of California is the discharge of an unknowntoxic substance in the water. The only two obvious common factors amongthe species killed are that all breathe air and that most or all feed on smallfish (e.g., sardines). The only other marine mammal species sighted in the areaat the time of the die-offs were blue whales (at least 18 individuals) and graywhales (three individuals), but none of these were killed. Blue whales feed onplankton and gray whales on amphipods from the ocean floor. Whether thetoxic substance was acquired from the prey or from the water is unknown.We suggest that the marine mammals and birds died because a toxic substance was discharged in or near areas where their prey concentrate” (p. 633).
So here are the unanswered questions, still:
1. Some dolphins in Peru were reported to strand alive, while in 1995 report all were dead
2. While some dead fish was reported the numbers were relatively small, which is inconsistent with red tide
3. Morbillivirus is still not plausible because just like 1995 report says “judging by previous mass mortality events, viruses appear to bevery specific, affecting only one species of host at a time. ” (p. 632)
Peru officials need to do very extensive testing now, because they have a huge mess on their hands that can be a combination of several things.