Nightly News   |  June 08, 2010

Oil's toll on wildlife grows

Biologists are trying to confirm whether the Gulf oil spill is to blame for the death of 265 turtles. NBC's Kerry Sanders reports.

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KERRY SANDERS reporting: I'm Kerry Sanders with Louisiana 's wildlife agents on Barataria Bay , where today the blood- red oil only adds to the growing belief that these waters may soon become a kind of graveyard. The crosses on Grand Isle mourn the sea life that fishermen fear may never return, including turtles. Finding turtles was the top priority on this mission.

Mr. JOHNNY WILSON (Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries): I'd say there's many, many more that we're missing that, you know, compared to the ones that we're actually finding.

SANDERS: And I guess there'll never really be a true count on that, will there?

Mr. WILSON: Oh, no, definitely not.

SANDERS: Today the team did find one of the rarest of all sea turtles , a Kemp's Ridley , soaked in oil and dead. If it didn't drown in the crude, biologists say it may be that the turtle ingested the petroleum. The turtle may have eaten something else that was covered in oil, like a jellyfish?

Mr. MANDY TUMLIN (Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries): Correct. It's the process of, you know, the food chain that we just don't know how this is going to affect animals long term.

SANDERS: As in all cases, it will take weeks of lab tests to determine if oil is at fault. Biologists have found 265 dead turtles, but 50 struggling turtles still alive, including this 30-year-old giant loggerhead.

Unidentified Woman: We opened up their mouths. We looked in their mouths to see if there was oil inside of there. Let's try that again.

SANDERS: Most are now being treated at this temporary aquarium in New Orleans . Until now, the leading cause of accidental death of tour -- of turtles has been getting caught up in shrimpers' nets. Now it's those very shrimpers out collecting the oil who may wind up saving the turtles' lives. Brian :

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Our thanks to Kerry Sanders tonight, and before that Mark Potter and Anne Thompson , part of our team covering this story in the gulf. Thanks to you all.