After deaths of hundreds of Gulf dolphins, feds give $1.25M to study impact of flood spillways

Published 8:04 am Sunday, September 29, 2019

Mississippi will get $1.25 million to evaluate the effects of freshwater from a Louisiana spillway on dolphins and sea turtles in the Mississippi Sound.

The money from federal oil and gas revenue-sharing will go to Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Gov. Phil Bryant said in a news release Friday.

The study will examine the abundance, health and habitat of dolphins and sea turtles in the area.

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The federal government says at least 310 dolphins have stranded since February from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle, 130 of them in Mississippi. Another 101 were in Louisiana, 42 in Alabama and 37 in Florida.

Some have had skin lesions consistent with freshwater exposure, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Army Corps of Engineers opened the Bonnet Carré Spillway twice this year to protect New Orleans levees, sending Mississippi River water into the Mississippi Sound for a total of 123 days.

The first opening was from Feb. 27 until April 11 and the second from May 10 to July 27.

The number of strandings peaked in May and fell sharply in June, according to NOAA.

The Mississippi researchers will collect environmental and oceanographic data will be collected to study habitat changes and suitability for dolphins and sea turtles. IMMS will use satellite tags to track rehabilitated sea turtles.

Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Mississippi, has said that fresh water damages oyster reefs and blue crabs, on which the turtles feed, and plants that are food for animals lower on the food chain.