Almost two weeks after the Galveston Bay oil spill, 29 dead dolphins have washed ashore and around 250 dead birds have been recovered. Scientists are determining whether the oil spill contributed to the higher-than-normal number of dolphin deaths.
It's typical for some dead dolphins to be found during the winter season, called the "stranding season," when statistics show more animals turn up dead on the shores than at any other time of year. In Galveston, however, the discrepancy is too large to ignore the spill as a leading factor. On March 30, a ship and barge crashed into each other in Galveston Bay, Texas, causing, nearly 168,000 gallons of crude to spill in the water.
Last year, 15 dolphins washed up in March - less than one-third of the 47 that have been found dead during March 2014. And the marine mammal is not only species affected. Hundreds of oiled birds and a handful of sea turtles have been found deceased in the past week. Despite forecasts from officials that the number of oil-covered birds would dwindle in the days following the spill, the number of affected species has climbed to 20. Ben Higgins, sea turtle program manager for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said that two dead Kemp's ridley turtle had been spotted, one on Galveston Island and one on Matagorda Island.
Not harming the environment is high on the list of priorities among foresighted oil companies, and while some accidents are impossible to avoid, others can be circumvented completely using predictive maintenance. This equipment allows oil companies to track changes, cracks, leaks and other worn material that become a risk factor for oil spills that can cause serious damage to the environment.
As for the Galveston Bay spill, environmental experts are working hard to limit the damage done, though it will likely last longer than planned.
"Long-term chronic effects can also happen," Heidi Whitehead, state operations coordinator for the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network, told Chron.com. "It's going to be something we are going to be investigating for a long time following this event."