Commerce Dept. Forbids Biologists from Releasing Data Regarding Gulf Dolphin Deaths

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Commerce Dept. Forbids Biologists from Releasing Data Regarding Gulf Dolphin Deaths

Institute for Marine Mammal Studies veterinary technician Wendy Hatchett lifts a dead bottlenose dolphin that was found on Ono Island, Alabama. Feb. 22, 2011 ((photo: Semansky/AP)
Scientists working for the National Marine Fisheries Service have been told to not publicly discuss the investigation into why dolphins are dying in large numbers along the Gulf Coast, where the nation’s worst-ever oil spill occurred last year.
Officials with the Department of Commerce, which oversees the fisheries service, placed a gag order on biologists hired to collect samples from the approximately 200 dolphins found dead so far this year. Some scientists say they’ve been admonished by the federal government for speaking to the media about the recent “unusual mortality event,” or the other 90 dead dolphins discovered in 2010 following the BP oil spill that polluted large sections of the Gulf of Mexico.
One biologist interviewed by Reuters said the gag order “throws accountability right out the window” and has left scientists “confused” and “angry” because it may hamper the investigation into what is killing the mammals.
Dolphin carcasses, including dozens of stillborn and immature babies, began showing up in coastal waters in January, before the species’ traditional birthing season.
According the Fisheries Service, no samples may be sent for analysis without the permission of the government because of a federal “criminal investigation associated with the oil spill.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff


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