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Riverhead biologists to help animals at Gulf oil spill

A dolphin swims in the Barataria Bay near

A dolphin swims in the Barataria Bay near oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill near Grand Isle, La. (June 16, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

Two local biologists from the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation arrived in the Gulf of Mexico this week to help rescue turtles, dolphins and other marine mammals injured by the mammoth oil leak there.

Rob DiGiovanni, the foundation's executive director, and rescue program supervisor Julika Wocial arrived in Florida Wednesday and will likely go to Louisiana Friday, said Kimberly Durham, the foundation's rescue program director.

"We think they'll be dispatched 40 to 50 miles offshore and tasked with surveying the waters, looking for any animals," Durham said. "If they find any, they'll do initial medical triage aboard," then the animal will be taken onshore for further treatment.

The Riverhead team will join thousands of cleanup workers and wildlife experts deployed along the Gulf Coast.

The National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration said strandings - defined as dead or debilitated animals - in the spill area since April have jumped compared to the same period in past years.

There have been 494 stranded turtles and 58 dolphins reported in waters off Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. All but five of the stranded dolphins and 56 of the sea turtles were found dead.

Another 107 turtles were captured during on-water survey and rescue operations, NOAA officials said. Visible evidence of oil was documented on 115 stranded or captured turtles. Of those, 12 were found dead.

9Mississippi has had the most sea turtle strandings, said agency spokeswoman Kim Amendola, while Louisiana has had the highest number of marine mammals - mostly bottlenose dolphins.

The Riverhead Foundation is authorized by NOAA to respond to regional marine strandings. DiGiovanni and Wocial have also received hazardous materials training so they can work within the "hot zone" of the spill, Durham said, adding: "We're down there until further notice."

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