Toronto: The whale and dolphin deaths due to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill may have been gravely underestimated. The ecological damage may be 50 times higher than believed, says a study.
The fatality figures based on the number of recovered animal carcasses from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 will not give a true death toll.
"The Deepwater oil spill was the largest in US history, however, the recorded impact on wildlife was relatively low, leading to suggestions that the environmental damage of the disaster was actually modest," said Rob Williams, who led the study.
"This is because reports have implied that the number of carcasses recovered, 101, equals the number of animals killed by the spill," said Williams, from the University of British Columbia, the journal Conservation Letters reports.
The team focused their research on 14 species of cetacean, an order of mammals including whales and dolphins, according to a British Columbia statement.
The team`s analysis suggests that only two percent of cetacean carcasses were ever historically recovered after their deaths in this region.
It implies that the true death toll from the Deepwater Horizon disaster could be 50 times higher than the number of deaths currently estimated.
The reason for the wide disparity between the estimates of death tolls may simply be due to the challenges of working in the marine environment.
The Deepwater disaster took place 40 miles offshore, in 1,500 metres of water, which is partly why estimates of oil flow rates during the spill were so difficult to make.
"The same factors that made it difficult to work on the spill also confound attempts to evaluate environmental damages caused by the spill," said Williams. "Consequently, we need to embrace a similar level of humility when quantifying the death tolls."