More tiny dolphins wash ashore in Mississippi and Alabama

GULFPORT -- The phenomenon of new born or stillborn baby dolphins washing ashore continued through the weekend in Mississippi and Alabama.

The total along the shores of both states as of Monday evening was 36 calves and eight adults.

The number was 67 dolphins of all ages dead as of Friday along the four states of the northern Gulf affected by the BP oil spill. But it is the figures in Mississippi and Alabama that show a marked spike in the number of dead newborns before the birthing season for dolphins in the area gets fully under way.

By this time last year, there had been two calves reported dead. In the first two months of 2009, there had been only one.

Of the 36 calves reported since mid-January, six came in over the weekend and Monday. An adult also was reported dead in Alabama.

On Saturday, one calf was confirmed dead on Cat Island. On Sunday, calves were found on West Point Island in Alabama, at Fowl River at the Mobile Bay and on the beach in Gulfport. On Monday, there was one in Gulfport and one in Pass Christian.

“They are really small,” said Megan Broadway, a research assistant with the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport. “They are newborns. We don’t know if they lived at all or if they did, for how many hours or days.”

The deaths come under a federal designation by NOAA Fisheries called an Unusual Mortality Event. But sorting out what caused the deaths may take months. Tissue samples gathered from six of the carcasses have been stored at the institute until NOAA decides what laboratories would best handle the tests.

The BP oil spill began in April and spewed 200 million gallons of crude into the Gulf during what was the early gestation months for the infant dolphins that are washing ashore.

Moby Solangi, director for the institute, which has collected all the samples, said something is happening “that is making these animal unable to have calves that survive.

“Something different is happening that has never happened here,” Solangi said.