HORN ISLAND -- A crew of four from the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies left the dock about 11 a.m. this morning for Horn Island, where four infant dolphins have washed up on the south side of the island.
That brings the total to 18 the number of infant or stillborn deaths with the birthing season still weeks away.
Two of the babies are male; the other two are unknown gender. One of the males found still had marks on his skin to indicate that he was not long out of the uterus. They all were small, no more than about 100 centimeters.
They will bring back one of the dolphins which had been only a day or two. The others were too badly decomposed for necropsy but skin, blubbler and muscle samples were taken, along with tissue from major organs.
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The island, one of the longest in the chain that comprises the Gulf Islands National Seashore Park, is about 12 miles south of Ocean Springs.
Three baby dolphins were pinpointed Monday and a fourth was reported today by National Resource Advisory employees who are working with BP cleanup crews on the island.
The four are also among the 28 total adult and infant dolphins reported since the beginning of the year. None of the dead adults were pregnant females.
A biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, assigned here from Alaska to oversee cleanup efforts to ensure the island is not damaged, found the dolphins and assigned GPS locations for retrieval and mapping.
While the IMMS crew worked -- one volunteer, one intern and two research assistants -- a several pods of dolphins could be seen playing on the south side of the island, jumping out of the water and frolicking.
There also were BP workers going in a line to clean up. They have loaned some of their equipment to the IMMS officials.
Earlier today, the industry’s leading scientist on marine mammal strandings is concerned about these deaths.
Blair Mase, NOAA’s marine mammal stranding coordinator for the Southeast region, confirmed that the number of baby dolphin deaths is high.
She said the institute reports all its findings to her.
So far this calving season, 18 infant dolphins have either been stillborn or died shortly after birth.
“We’re definitely keeping a close eye on this situation,” Mase said. “We’re comparing this to previous years, trying to find out what’s going on here.”
She said this is the time of the year that she sees death in young dolphins, because it is the beginning of the birthing season. But really, the normal birthing season is a little later in the year, she said.
“We’re trying to determine if we do in fact have still births,” she said. There are more in Mississippi than in Alabama and Louisiana.
“With the oil spill, it is difficult,” she said. “We’re trying to determine what’s causing this. It could be infectious related. Or it could be non-infection.
“We run the gamut of causes,” she said, including human impact, which would include the oil spill; infectious disease and bio-toxins,
IMMS has been conducting necropsies on the baby dolphins and sharing the findings with Mase.