USM professor: Variety of factors possible in dolphin deaths

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Dr. Stan Kuczaj, a University of Southern Mississippi psychology professor and director of the university's Marine Mammal Behavior and Cognition Laboratory, said the dead dolphin calves found on the Mississippi and Alabama coastlines is disturbingly high.

Nearly 20 dead dolphins have been reported so far this year along the Gulf Coast.

"We may see two or three wash up on shore by this each year, so this is well above normal. And those are just the ones we've found on the beach," he said. A research team from the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies is looking into the situation.

Kuczaj and his students have done over 20 years of research on dolphins including in the Mississippi Sound and off the coast of Honduras.

Theories on the cause of the deaths center on last year's Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Kuczaj says it is a possibility, but is only one potential cause.

"They could have died because the mother was swimming in the oil, consumed affected fish or breathed oil fumes for an extended period of time, but it could have been caused by cold temperatures," he said. "We won't really know why until we get the results of the necropsies (autopsies)," which he said could take weeks or months, depending on the extent of the lab work needed.

Kuczaj's dolphin research has received support from the Office of Naval Research and has been presented on the science television show NOVA.

For more information on the Southern Miss Marine Mammal Behavior and Cognition Laboratory, visit

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