GULFPORT -- NOAA officials called a national media briefing Thursday and said that the BP oil spill could have played a role in the high number of dolphin deaths in the northern Gulf since 2010.
But they said further testing is needed to draw any conclusions.
NOAA called the briefing to let the public know that five of the 580 dolphins discovered dead, including some of the fetuses, died from a marine version of a bacteria that kills goats, sheep, cattle, pigs, elk and dogs.
Three fetuses and two adult bottlenose dolphin were found to have the bacteria brucella in their lungs or brains.
Teri Rowles, NOAAs lead marine mammal veterinarian and coordinator for the national stranding response, said she knows of no other case where there has been a high mortality rate with brucella in dolphins.
Earlier this year, before the normal birthing season, dolphin fetuses were washing ashore along Mississippi and Alabama beaches in record numbers.
We believe these five dolphins died from brucellosis, she said. Die-offs from bacterial infections could be occurring because the bacterium has become more lethal, but they could also be occurring, or be more severe, because the dolphins are more susceptible to infection.
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