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Sunday, March 27, 2011

On the government (NOAA's Marine Fisheries Service) cover-up of Gulf bottlenose dolphin deaths (200 so far in 2011 during the first calving season in the northern Gulf since the BP Deepwater Horizon spill -- dispersant Corexit suspected)

Guest Post on Naked Capitalism blog: On the Government Cover-Up of Gulf Dolphin Deaths

Yves here. This post may strike readers as off topic, but it sits at the locus of several Naked Capitalism topics of interest: the Deepwater Horizon blowout and its aftermath, animals (particularly dolphins, which are more altruistic than people and quite likely as smart), Obama administration duplicity, and reading between the lines of media reports.
By a retired physician who worked several years in the medical communications and pharmaceutical industry who writes as Francois T
From a Reuters story yesterday, “Government tightens lid on dolphin death probe”:
The U.S. government is keeping a tight lid on its probe into scores of unexplained dolphin deaths along the Gulf Coast, possibly connected to last year’s BP oil spill, causing tension with some independent marine scientists.
Wildlife biologists contracted by the National Marine Fisheries Service to document spikes in dolphin mortality and to collect specimens and tissue samples for the agency were quietly ordered late last month to keep their findings confidential.
The gag order was contained in an agency letter informing outside scientists that its review of the dolphin die-off, classified as an “unusual mortality event (UME),” had been folded into a federal criminal investigation launched last summer into the oil spill.
Cough! Cough! Given the OUTSTANDING record of the Obama administration in the “Get Tough with’em Korporations, Barack!”, are we supposed to believe this grade-AAA bullshit? Continuing:
“Because of the seriousness of the legal case, [You mean, it would get real serious if you don't choke the flow of information?] no data or findings may be released, presented or discussed outside the UME investigative team without prior approval,” the letter, obtained by Reuters, stated.
Inquiring minds wants to know WHOSE approval are we talking about here. A “lawyer” maybe? They’re so damn cognizant of scientific facts, aren’t they? Or maybe a politrouk komissar from the White House, one of those poleznye idioty so dear to Lenin’s disciples!
A number of scientists said they have been personally rebuked by federal officials for “speaking out of turn” to the media about efforts to determine the cause of some 200 dolphin deaths this year, and about 90 others last year, in the Gulf.
Oh! They must take turn to exercise their 1st amendment rights? Oh wait! This is the Obama admin we’re talking about here, the über-champion of civil rights. I almost forgot.
Moreover, they said collected samples and specimens are being turned over to the government for analysis under a protocol that will leave independent scientists in the dark about the efficacy and outcome of any laboratory tests.
Some researchers designated as official “partners” in the agency’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network complained such constraints undermine the transparency of a process normally open to review by the scientific community.
“It throws accountability right out the window,” one biologist involved in tracking dolphin deaths for more than 20 years told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “We are confused and … we are angry because they claim they want teamwork, but at the same time they are leaving the marine experts out of the loop completely.”
Huh? “Accountabiwhat?” Well Professor! Haven’t you got the memo yet? For this administration, the definition of “teamwork” is “a lot of people following our orders”. And remember, those inconvenient independent scientists were kept as far away from the leak in its early weeks. Precedents not looking too favorable, are they?

Some question why the Marine Fisheries Service, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, has taken so long to get samples into laboratories.
“It is surprising that it has been almost a full year since the spill, and they still haven’t selected labs for this kind of work,” said Ruth Carmichael, who studies marine mammals at the independent Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama.
“I can only hope that this process is a good thing. I just don’t know. This is an unfortunate situation.”
NOAA officials expressed sympathy but insisted the control and confidentiality measures were necessary.
The same NOAA who took its darn sweet time in sending submersibles look for oil plumes? The same NOAA that tried to lie to the American public about the flow rate of the spill for the first 2 weeks of this tragedy? I’m sure they’re VERY sympathetic.
“We are treating the evidence, which are the dolphin samples, like a murder case,” said Dr. Erin Fougeres, a marine biologist with the Fisheries Service. “The chain of custody is being closely watched. Every dolphin sample is considered evidence in the BP case now.”
Again, is this remotely credible? Does the go-vermin plan to criminally sue BP for animal cruelty? Puhleeeeze!
Blair Mase, a marine mammal scientist for NOAA, said lab results would go directly back to the Fisheries Service in about two to three months…
As of this week, scientists have counted nearly 200 bottlenose dolphin carcasses found since mid-January along the shores of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, about half of them newly born or stillborn infants.
That tally, about 14 times the numbers averaged during that time of year between 2002 and 2007, coincides with the first dolphin calving season in the northern Gulf since BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded last April.
That is a rather potent indication that something’s very wrong. We wonder if an eventual jury wouldn’t be tempted to find this obvious fact more persuasive than a mind-numbing analysis of hundreds of samples performed by the party who will prosecute BP and without independent review. Hmmm! If I were a BP lawyer…
The blast killed 11 workers and ruptured a wellhead on the sea floor, dumping an estimated 5 million barrels (206 million gallons) of oil into the Gulf over more than three months.
Wasn’t there also this stuff…Corexit? The dispersant that would help dilute the oil so fast, far and wide that toxicity would be far lower than without it? Corexit, that was approved by the government despite strenuous objections from several of their own scientists. Hmmm! If I were a BP lawyer…
Nearly 90 dead dolphins, most of them adults, washed up along the Gulf Coast last year in the weeks and months following the blowout.
The latest spike in deaths, and high concentration of premature infants among them, has led some experts to speculate that oil ingested or inhaled by dolphins during the spill has taken a belated toll on the animals, possibly leading to a wave of dolphin miscarriages.
But most of the specimens collected bear no obvious signs of oil contamination, making lab analysis crucial to understanding what caused the deaths.
If there are no obvious signs, that may bring us back to the Corexit…
Mase said the carcasses also are considered potential evidence in the natural resources damage assessment being conducted in conjunction with civil litigation pursued against BP by the government simultaneously with the criminal probe.
It remains to be seen what will be the DOJ conduct (read: once they get their instructions from the WH) when the analysis of these dolphins remains are done. We still fail to see how this could contribute to an eventual, albeit improbable criminal case against BP. Legal eagles are welcome to chime in here. In any case, optimism is misplaced until proven otherwise. We don’t even know how serious the administration will be in the CIVIL case against BP. Will they go Henry Waxman or Joe Barton on them?

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