The efforts to finger a culprit — or culprits — amount to a vast investigation the likes of which “CSI” has never seen. The trail of evidence leads from marine patrols in Mississippi, where more than half the dead turtles have been found, to a toxicology lab in Lubbock, Tex., to this animal autopsy room at the University of Florida in Gainesville. And instead of the fingerprint analysis and security camera video used in human homicides, the veterinary detectives are relying on shrimp boat data recorders and chromatographic spectrum analysis that can tell if the oil residue found in an animal has the same “chemical signature” as BP crude.
The outcome will help determine how many millions BP will pay in civil and criminal penalties — which are far higher for endangered animals like sea turtles — and provide a wealth of information about the little-known 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 the initial turtle necropsies and some dolphin necropsies were 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.”