NEW YORK, July 15 (UPI) — U.S. scientists are studying hundreds of dead animals found along the Gulf coast since the beginning of the oil spill for clues to how they died, officials say.
The bodies of birds, turtles, dolphins and one whale are being examined and autopsied to determine what killed them, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
Although oil is the obvious suspect, the vast majority of the animals examined so far show no visible signs of oil contamination, scientists say.
Scientists will be looking at other suspect causes including oil fumes, oiled food, chemicals used to break up the oil spill or natural diseases, the Times reported.
At issue is the determination of how much BP might pay in civil and criminal penalties if held responsible for causing animal deaths.
Such penalties are far higher for endangered animals like sea turtles.
The investigation is also expected to provide clues to the possible effects of oil on protected species in the gulf.
“It is terribly important to know, in the big scheme of things, why something died,” said Moby Solangi, the director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Miss., where turtle and dolphin autopsies have been performed.
“We might be doing what we can to address the issues of today and manage the risk,” he said. “But for tomorrow, we need to know what actually happened.”
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