Oil Spill Not Linked to Gulf Sea Turtle Deaths

Oil Spill Not Linked to Gulf Sea Turtle Deaths

ROBERT, Louisiana, May 5, 2010 (ENS) – Thirty to 50 sea turtles, species unknown, were seen swimming in or near the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, who flew over the spill area on Tuesday.

NOAA is working on a plan to address large numbers of oiled sea turtles, but although there have been 38 sea turtle strandings reported from Alabama through the Louisiana’s Mississippi Delta since April 30, NOAA says the turtles did not die from contact with the oil.

Sea turtle stranding responders recovered all but one of the turtles. All those recovered were dead except one, which died shortly thereafter.

Most of the turtles identified so far are endangered juvenile Kemp’s ridley turtles. No evidence of oil was found on the beaches where the strandings occurred.

“Based on careful examination, NOAA scientists do not believe that these sea turtle strandings are related to the oil spill,” said Barbara Schroeder, NOAA national sea turtle coordinator.

Loggerhead sea turtle surfaces in the Gulf of Mexico. (Photo by Ron Wooten)

“NOAA and its partners have conducted 10 necropsies so far. None of the 10 turtles showed evidence of oil, externally or internally,” she said.

The responders are working under the guidance of NOAA, which responds to thousands of sea turtle strandings in the Gulf of Mexico every year.

The dead turtles have been sent to the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Mississippi to determine, if possible, whether their deaths are linked to oil, or another cause.

At least 15 more necropsies of dead sea turtles are planned in the coming days. While the complete results can take several weeks because of the time needed to analyze tissue, preliminary results are available immediately after the necropsy itself, which takes several hours.

In recent years, sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico have shown a pattern of increased stranding during this time of year. Schroeder said NOAA scientists believe the stranding numbers are higher than normal and are working to understand why.

Sea turtles die of natural causes, and are also affected by natural factors such as algal blooms. Primary human causes for sea turtle deaths include capture in fishing nets, shrimp trawls and vessel strikes.

There are five sea turtle species in the Gulf of Mexico. Kemp’s ridley, leatherback, and green sea turtles are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act; loggerhead and hawksbill sea turtles are listed as threatened.

As weather allows, NOAA will continue to do daily overflights of the slick, which will guide mitigation efforts, such as burning of oil and application of dispersants.

To report oiled shoreline or request volunteer information call (866)-448-5816; To report oiled wildlife call (866) 557-1401

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.

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