The Gulf of Mexico oil disaster's visible effects on wildlife have increased sharply in the past week, as wind and current conditions push the surface oil slick closer to the coastline. Heavy bands of oil have penetrated the coastal marshes of Louisiana, and the federal government has declared a fisheries disaster for Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
Various agencies are keeping counts of dead and injured wildlife in the region (although it's likely that most will never be seen or found). Here are the federal government's numbers so far:
Three oiled sea turtles (a loggerhead and two Kemp's ridleys) were picked up in the water by staff of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization (NOAA) on May 21. They have been taken to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas for cleanup and rehabilitiation.
About 200 dead sea turtles have been found in the area affected by the oil leak since April 30, according to NOAA's National Ocean Service. Of 12 live, stranded sea turtles, two have died while being cared for after capture. "None of the dead or live stranded turtles have had visible evidence of external oil," according to the agency.
As reported in OnEarth, in early May the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) was investigating the possible role of shrimp trawling in the deaths of at least 35 Gulf turtles. Conservationists suspect that some shrimpers may have removed turtle excluder devices from their nets in order to maximize their catches before the oil spill forced closure of the fishery. It's unclear whether the NOAA and NMFS counts are referring to the same animals.
NOAA's National Ocean Service reports 20 confirmed dead dolphins in the area of the oil disaster. Nineteen had no visible signs of oil, according to the agency, while a dolphin found on May 24 is still being examined.
As of May 22, the National Fish and Wildlife Service (NFWS) had reported more than 60 birds affected by the oil spill, with 43 found dead.The agency counts 32 federal refuges for wildlife that are at risk from oil contamination, including seven in Texas. Dozens of species that call these areas home are federally listed as threatened or endangered, while the brown pelican -- Louisiana's state bird -- was just taken off the list in late 2009, after 29 years.