ESR 33:127-142 (2017)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00778

Slow recovery of Barataria Bay dolphin health following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (2013-2014), with evidence of persistent lung disease and impaired stress response

Cynthia R. Smith1,*, Teresa K. Rowles2, Leslie B. Hart3,4, Forrest I. Townsend5, Randall S. Wells6, Eric S. Zolman3, Brian C. Balmer3,6, Brian Quigley3, Marina Ivančić1, Willie McKercher7, Mandy C. Tumlin8, Keith D. Mullin9, Jeffrey D. Adams2, Qingzhong Wu10, Wayne McFee3, Tracy K. Collier10, Lori H. Schwacke3

1National Marine Mammal Foundation, 2240 Shelter Island Drive, Suite 200, San Diego, CA 92106, USA
2NOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service, Office of Protected Resources, 1315 East West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910, USA
3NOAA, National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, 331 Fort Johnson Road, Charleston, SC 29412, USA
4College of Charleston, Department of Health & Human Performance, 66 George Street, Charleston, SC 29424, USA
5Bayside Hospital for Animals, 251 Racetrack Road NE, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32547, USA
6Chicago Zoological Society, c/o Mote Marine Laboratory, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, FL 34236, USA
7Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, PO Box 2261, Jackson, MS 39225, USA
8Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, 2000 Quail Drive, Baton Rouge, LA 70898, USA
9NOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Fisheries Science Center, 3209 Frederic Street, Pascagoula, MS 39567, USA
10Joint Office for Science Support, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, 3300 Mitchell Lane, Boulder, CO 80301, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The 2010 Deepwater Horizon (DWH) disaster resulted in large-scale oil contamination of the northern Gulf of Mexico. As part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment designed to investigate the potential impacts of the DWH oil spill, comprehensive health assessments were conducted on bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus living in oiled bays (Barataria Bay [BB], Louisiana, and Mississippi Sound [MS], Mississippi/Alabama) and a reference bay with no evidence of DWH oil contamination (Sarasota Bay [SB], Florida). As previously reported, multiple health issues were detected in BB dolphins during 2011. In the present study, follow-on capture-release health assessments of BB dolphins were performed (2013, 2014) and indicated an overall improvement in population health, but demonstrated that pulmonary abnormalities and impaired stress response persisted for at least 4 yr after the DWH disaster. Specifically, moderate to severe lung disease remained elevated, and BB dolphins continued to release low levels of cortisol in the face of capture stress. The proportion of guarded or worse prognoses in BB improved over time, but 4 yr post-spill, they were still above the proportion seen in SB. Health assessments performed in MS in 2013 showed similar findings to BB, characterized by an elevated prevalence of low serum cortisol and moderate to severe lung disease. Prognosis scores for dolphins examined in MS in 2013 were similar to BB in 2013. Data from these follow-on studies confirmed that dolphins living in areas affected by the DWH spill were more likely to be ill; however, some improvement in population health has occurred over time.


KEY WORDS: Dolphin · Health · Oil · Toxicology · Pulmonary · Stress · Cortisol · Prognosis


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Cite this article as: Smith CR, Rowles TK, Hart LB, Townsend FI and others (2017) Slow recovery of Barataria Bay dolphin health following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (2013-2014), with evidence of persistent lung disease and impaired stress response. Endang Species Res 33:127-142. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00778

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