Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS-- It's been a busy few months for Suzanne Smith of the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.
"We keep all kinds of species here," she said.
Smith is also a part of the Louisiana Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Rescue Program. Just last week alone, she conducted necropsies on three dead dolphins found near Grand Isle.
"We're finding, unfortunately, more dead dolphins than we normally would," Smith said. "So, the testing on the necropsies has gotten very strict and we are taking duplicate and triplicate samples on all parts, externally and internally on these animals, to try and find out what is happening out in the wild population."
Since the beginning of the month, 14 marine mammals, including a dozen dolphins, have been found along the northern Gulf of Mexico. Half of the dead dolphins washed up on the Louisiana coast.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) calls it an "Unusual Mortality Event" in the northern Gulf and next month will mark two years since it began. The tally so far: 630 dead.
The event started in February of 2010 - two months before the oil spill began. Still, the deaths raise a red flag with the Gulf Restoration Network.
"The ongoing death of these dolphins speaks to the idea that we haven't seen all of the impacts from the BP oil drilling disaster end yet," said Dan Favre of the Gulf Restoration Network
Since there is an ongoing investigation and litigation involving the BP spill, Smith and other scientists are not allowed to reveal what they have found in the necropsies. Last fall, NOAA said some of the dead dolphins showed signs of a virus called Brucella. What role, if any, the oil spill may have played with the immune systems of the dead dolphins is still not clear and neither is when the strandings may finally stop.
"I hope we don't see anything more, but I would say we still have a little more time where we're going to be on the edge of our seat in seeing what might actually happen in the future," Favre said.
All of this comes as a federal trial is scheduled for February 27, related to liability in the oil spill and spanning multiple jurisdictions and claims. That trial, considered the first of three trial phases, will focus on what caused the blowout and spill.