Just when everyone has finally moved on and almost forgot about Peru’s unprecedented die-off an interesting correspondence appeared in Nature. This publication alludes to yet another reason for die off stating that “Persistent pollutants that accumulate in cetaceans could be a factor. These weaken cetacean immune systems, making them more susceptible to infection, exacerbated by food shortages during El Niño episodes and harmful algal blooms”
We find it curious (although not entirely unexpected) how much effort is made to distance seismic surveys and Big Oil from this event. So now, apparently pollution caused the die off. What nobody tells you (yet again) is that if you pull a random cetacean from the middle of the ocean he will be loaded with pollutants. This is just the fact of life and the current state of our oceans. Just like morbillivirus, pollution is another convenient scapegoat because one can be almost 100% sure to find it in any stranded cetacean.
For example, 90% of USA population have detectable levels of BPA (pollutant from plastic) in their urine. If we are to apply the same logic as it was done in recent Nature article, we can say that when we happen to stumble upon train wreck with 100 human bodies laying around, we can say that pollution could have been the cause, after all all bodies tested positively for BPA and other stuff, like lead for example. Absurd right? But how come it is acceptable when it comes to cetaceans?
Additionally our beloved (yet extremely biased MARMAM, that btw banned us from posting there) published yet another forum post where once again ORCA is bashed for their report and it is stated once again that “The strandings begun at least one month before the first seismic shoot in northern Peru (Tumbes) by the MV Veritas Vantage hired by BPZ Oil”. Now, this is curious because for once nobody knows when exactly the event started to unfold, there were reports from local fishermen that some dolphins started to wash ashore as far back as November 2011. Next, everybody conveniently forgets or fails to mention that BPZ WAS NOT the only oil company hanging around in the area. SK Energy and Savia have been doing surveys there as well (read more info here) and who knows who else.
Now we have criticized ORCA as well mainly for trading carefully around seismic testing issue. However, we do not appreciate the attack on ORCA that is currently going on. Nor do we appreciate the half truths and omission of information that is communicated to the public. Why nobody asks every oil company that has been testing in the area (within 100, 200, 300, 400 and 500 miles from the site) to disclose everything that they have been doing? The truth is we only have PR statements from BPZ and that is pretty much it, as none of the oil companies are required to disclose anything.
Also the MARMAM forum post says “This make me think that ORCA is missinterpreting pathologies originated by carcasses decomposition and the rolling of the dolphins in the surf zone during the strandings.” However, ORCA found embolism in fat tissues which can actually be the evidence of decompression issue even in a decomposed carcass. In addition, even though ORCA might made some mistakes or misinterpreted at least some of the findings no other independent party bothered to investigate the die off, which is also important to remember.
One thing is clear: Peru die-off revealed the full extent of disarray when it comes to strandings, how they are handled, investigated, evaluated and communicated. It also shows how much effort is made to distance the Big Oil from such events (and Navy too, see IFAW and Cape Cod mass stranding). Here is what needs to happen:
1. Several independent parties (meaning NGO, with no ties to Navy or Big Oil) should investigate mass strandings and do necropsy reports. The reports should include following and be freely available to the public:
- Sample size
- What tests were done
- All entities that took part in testing
- What tests WERE NOT DONE
- Findings in context of what is present in wild populations
- Conclusion re: cause
- Degree of certainty
2. Big Oil and Navy should be required by law to disclose every last bit of information, or their permits should be revoked:
- dates of seismic surveys
- locations (radius within 100 up to 500 miles from stranding site)
- exact transects
- number of vessels, names of vessels
- number of airguns (sonar sources for Navy)
- Source Levels in dB re 1 mPa
- schedule of testing
- PAM (passive acoustic monitoring), MMO (marine mammal observers) notes
Once we have data like this, then and only then we can arrive to some sort of conclusion. Sadly in Peru’s case (and Cape Cod case) we have nothing even remotely close to such information. And for that reason in our book Cape Cod and Peru’s strandings remain highly suspicious with huge gaps in data and by no means both should be written down as “natural” events and by no means the Navy and Big Oil should be excluded as one of the possible reasons for these 2 strandings.
IMPORTANT FINAL NOTE: Even if ORCA 100% wrong in their report it still DOES NOT TAKE THE BIG OIL OFF THE HOOK. Why? Because the response to seismic survey can be purely behavioral. Cetaceans flee the source of sound that creates acoustic barrier for them they cannot cross. In that case necropsy will not find anything, because cetaceans will flee the sound, will strand and will die of asphyxiation, will drown in surf or die of a cardiac event. Peru’s stranding site was very remote and who knows how many dolphins stranded alive (there were some reports (1 and 2) of live strandings from Peru btw, again nobody talks about it either). Read more about behavioral causes of mass strandings here, here and here.