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Dolphins in oil spill area still in bad shape

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NEW ORLEANS – Dolphins living in one of the areas worst hit by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill were in bad shape a year later, with lung problems consistent with exposure to oil, according to a study assessing damage from the spill.

Government, academic and other researchers made comprehensive check-ups on 29 dolphins in Barataria Bay in August 2011 as part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment – a federal process to determine the extent of damage and how to repair it. Barataria Bay was one of the areas where pelicans struggled in heavy slicks and thick globs of oil washed onto marshy islands between April and July 2010.

Fourteen of the 29 dolphins examined in 2011 were in guarded, poor or grave condition. That compared to one out of 15 caught for comparison in Sarasota Bay, Fla., which was not involved in the spill, according to the study published Wednesday in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist Lori Schwacke said she has made similar assessments in other groups of dolphins, sometimes in response to large numbers of deaths.

“There’s disease in any wild population. But I just haven’t seen animals in such bad shape as in Barataria Bay,” the wildlife epidemiologist for NOAA’s Hollings Research Laboratory in Charleston, S.C., said during a teleconference Wednesday.

The study indicates a possible link to the oil spill but does not prove one, said Mobi Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Miss.

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