Researchers from ORCA Peru and BlueVoice.org have discovered 615 dead dolphins along a 135km stretch of the coast of Peru, according to a statement from BlueVoice. While the research, sanctioned by the Peruvian Ecological Police has not determined a definitive cause for the horrific “Unexplained Mortality Event”, Dr. Yaipen Llanos of Orca Peru fears that the fatalities may have been caused by sonic blasts used in oil exploration.
Hardy Jones, executive director of BlueVoice discovered the dolphins, alongside Dr Carlos Yaipen Llanos of ORCA Peru, in a single day along a stretch of the Peruvian coast which runs from the village of San Jose north to Piura. The unusually high rate of dolphin fatalities was first reported to authorities in January by fishermen in the area. Jones explained “If you can count 615 dead dolphins you can be sure there are a great many more out at sea and the total will reach into the thousands.” MSNBC noted that the head of a local fisherman’s association estimated that over 3,000 dolphins had died, based on what he had seen on beaches and at sea.
It is possible that the dolphins, which are primarily long beaked common dolphins, could have died from viral infection or from toxins produced by algal blooms, according to BlueVoice. However, Yaipen Llanos’s “initial forensic inspections found no lesions that would justify a cause of toxic poisoning.” However, the sonic blasts used in the area in the process of oil exploration can cause severe damage to the highly sensitive auditory systems of dolphins, as “loud noises [can] essentially blind them.” The impact of a sonic blast would leave no signs visible “on the exterior of the dolphin. Damage to the inner ear could only be detected through necropsy of the inner ear.”
While the researchers emphasize that there is no clear evidence that the sonic blast process is responsible for the UME, Blue Voice notes that “The United States agency that governs permits for oil exploration has just prohibited similar sonic tests in an area of the Gulf of Mexico where dolphins are calving.” This apparent ruling comes at a time when Gulf of Mexico dolphins are believed to be suffering from continued oil exposure from the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.
The sonic blast exploration method has long been recognized to pose a significant threat to sea life, and the NRDC has stated that there is “no doubt that sonar injuries kill whales and dolphins.” Concerns have been raised about the impact of the process on animals in many areas, including around Russia’s Sakhalin Island, where oil production continues in seas that are home to the critically endangered Western Gray Whale.
If the Peruvian dolphins were fatally impacted by oil exploration, Hardy Jones noted that “It is a horrifying thought that these dolphins would die in agony over a prolonged period if they were impacted by a sonic blast.”
Photos Courtesy of ORCA Peru