Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS, La. -- With an increasing number of dead dolphins showing up along the northern Gulf Coast, scientists are scrambling to keep up and find the reason behind the deaths.
"Everybody knows that there's something going on. What that something is, is what we're working really hard to try and found out," said Suzanne Smith, stranding and rescue coordinator for the Audubon Nature Institute. "We are doing necropsies, almost on a weekly basis."
There have been 344 strandings along the northern Gulf of Mexico since last November. Three happened just in the last week: one along the Mississippi Coast; the other two along the Southeast Louisiana coast, including a dead dolphin found in the Rigolets.
The federal government, through NOAA, declared the area an "Unusual Mortality Event." Whether or not the deaths are related to last year's oil spill is still not clear.
However, some environmental advocates believe the signs are there.
"We do know that BP put a historic amount of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, in the marine habitat that the dolphins live in, in the coastal habitat that the dolphins use and then they topped it off with a historic amount of dispersant," said Aaron Viles with the Gulf Restoration Network.
Dr. Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, believes dolphins are facing an emergency in the northern Gulf right now.
Solangi has been involved in collecting samples from the dead dolphins, but because of the ongoing federal investigation into the oil spill, he said he and other scientists are not allowed to analyze their samples, nor discuss any findings.
However, he said the dolphin deaths indicate trouble.
"If these animals are not healthy, then, ultimately, we may not be healthy," Solangi said.
So far this year, only one live dolphin, which was found stranded, has survived and recovered.