Demographic Clusters Identified within the Northern Gulf of Mexico Common Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncates) Unusual Mortality Event: January 2010 - June 2013
An unusual mortality event (UME) was declared for cetaceans in the northern Gulf of Mexico (GoM) for Franklin County, Florida, west through Louisiana, USA, beginning in February 2010 and was ongoing as of September 2014. The 'Deepwater Horizon' (DWH) oil spill began on 20 April 2010 in the GoM, raising questions regarding the potential role of the oil spill in the UME. The present study reviews cetacean mortality events that occurred in the GoM prior to 2010 (n = 11), including causes, durations, and some specific test results, to provide a historical context for the current event. The average duration of GoM cetacean UMEs prior to 2010 was 6 mo, and the longest was 17 mo (2005-2006). The highest number of cetacean mortalities recorded during a previous GoM event was 344 (in 1990). In most previous events, dolphin morbillivirus or brevetoxicosis was confirmed or suspected as a causal factor. In contrast, the current northern GoM UME has lasted more than 48 mo and has had more than 1000 reported mortalities within the currently defined spatial and temporal boundaries of the event. Initial results from the current UME do not support either morbillivirus or brevetoxin as primary causes of this event. This review is the first summary of cetacean UMEs in the GoM and provides evidence that the most common causes of previous UMEs are unlikely to be associated with the current UME.