By Karen Nelson
Biloxi Sun Herald
Baby dolphins, some barely 3 feet in length, are washing up along the Mississippi and Alabama coastlines at 10 times the normal rate of stillborn and infant deaths, researchers are finding.
The Sun Herald has learned that  young dolphins, either aborted before they reached maturity or dead soon after birth, have been collected along the shorelines.
The Institute of Marine Mammal Studies performed necropsies, animal autopsies, on two of the babies Monday. Moby Solangi, director of the institute, called the high number of deaths an anomaly and said it is significant, especially in light of the BP oil spill throughout the spring and summer last year.
Oil worked its way into the Mississippi and Chandeleur sounds and other bays and shallow waters where dolphins breed and give birth.
This is the first birthing season for dolphins since the spill.
Dolphins breed in the spring and carry their young for 11 to 12 months, Solangi said.
Typically in January and February, there are one or two babies per month found in Mississippi and Alabama, then the birthing season goes into full swing in March and April.
“For some reason, they’ve started aborting or they were dead before they were born,” Solangi said. “The average is one or two a month. This year we have 17, and February isn’t even over yet.” [Updated below, 18 dead baby dolphins reported]
The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies has confirmed that a fourth baby dolphin has washed ashore on Horn Island, Mississippi….
These infant dolphins are among the 18 reported since January. The four are also among the 28 total adult and infant dolphins reported since the beginning of the year. None of the dead adults were pregnant females.
The industry’s leading scientist on marine mammal strandings is concerned about these deaths.
Blair Mase, NOAA’s marine mammal stranding coordinator for the Southeast region, confirmed that the number of baby dolphin deaths is high.
She said the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies reports all its findings to her.
So far this calving season, 18 infant dolphins have either been stillborn or died shortly after birth.
“We’re definitely keeping a close eye on this situation,” Mase said. “We’re comparing this to previous years, trying to find out what’s going on here.”
She said this is the time of the year that she sees death in young dolphins, because it is the beginning of the birthing season. But really, the normal birthing season is a little later in the year, she said.
“We’re trying to determine if we do in fact have still births,” she said. There are more in Mississippi than in Alabama and Louisiana.
“With the oil spill, it is difficult,” she said. “We’re trying to determine what’s causing this. It could be infectious related. Or it could be non-infection.
“We run the gamut of causes,” she said, including human impact, which would include the oil spill; infectious disease and bio-toxins,
IMMS has been conducting necropsies on the baby dolphins and sharing the findings with Mase.
ALSO: Baby sperm whale found on Galveston beach, Houston Chronicle, February 23, 2011.