(NaturalNews) Dozens of dead baby and adult dolphins have washed ashore on Gulf beaches since the beginning of the year, according to new reports. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says the rising death count is exceptionally high, especially because the normal birthing season for dolphins -- a time at which some baby dolphins inevitably end up dying -- is normally several months from now.
"We're definitely keeping a close eye on this situation," said Blair Mase, NOAA's marine mammal stranding coordinator for the Southeast region, to the Sun Herald. "We're comparing this to previous years, trying to find out what's going on here."
Since the beginning of 2011, there have been 28 reported incidents of dead dolphins washing ashore. Eighteen of these deaths occurred in infant dolphins, and none of the dead adults were pregnant females. The most recent of the deaths occurred at Horn Island, one of a chain of small islands that compose the Gulf Islands National Seashore Park near Pensacola, Fla.
"With the oil spill, it is difficult (to determine the cause of death)," said Mase to reporters. "It could be infectious related. Or it could be non-infection. We've run the gamut of causes." The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS) is currently conducting necropsies to determine the cause of death in the dolphins.
NOAA's recently-released Coastal Georgia Dolphin Health Assessment, a yearly report on the health of dolphins, found that levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in dolphins off the Georgia coast are the highest they have ever been in reported marine wildlife history, with a maximum concentration of 2,900 parts per million (ppm).
It is unclear whether or not the oil plumes from the BP disaster, or the Corexit chemicals used to disperse them, are at all implicated in the high PCB levels of Georgia dolphins or the recent Gulf dolphin deaths.