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The Oil Spill’s Effects on Life Underwater

posted Nov 11, 2010, 1:10 PM by Cesar Harada
posted Jun 17, 2010 3:39 PM by Li Yu   [ updated Jun 17, 2010 3:56 PM by Cesar Harada ]
Spill’s Effects Underwater

Efforts are under way to keep the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico from reaching birds, mammals and critical shoreline habitats, but some marine biologists worry about the effects of the oil slick and the use of chemical dispersants on life underwater. “Dispersants tend to be toxic in and of themselves but may be the lesser of two evils,” said Jacqueline Savitz, a senior scientist at Oceana, a nonprofit environmental group. 

Dispersants on the Surface

Chemicals are being sprayed onto the slick by aircraft to speed up
 the natural dispersion of oil. Dispersed oil is spread by waves and
 wind in surface waters, where many marine animals live. 

Dispersants at the leak

BP officials said they were injecting dispersants into the oil as it flows from the well. Engineers hope the chemical, though usually used on the water surface, will break up the oil before it rises. Though the full environmental impact is unknown, there is less biological life to affect at this depth.

Impact on Sea Life

  • Animal Pelican

    Brown pelicans and other seabirds often dive into the oil because the slick makes the water look calmer. If they are coated in oil, they will be unable to regulate their temperatures, leading to hyperthermia.

  • Animal Plankton

    Plankton, tiny immobile organisms at the base of the food chain, can be killed by chemically dispersed oil.

  • Animal Turtle

    All four species of sea turtles in the gulf are threatened or endangered. Some have already washed up ashore, and with numbers already low, it would be harder to rebuild the population.

  • Animal Dolphin

    Dolphins, which often follow boats to play, have been following response crews, getting near the slicks.

  • Animal Shrimp

    Shrimp and other shellfish are more vulnerable to oil and chemical dispersants because they are stationary, while some adult fin fish populations may be mobile.

  • Animal Tuna

    Fish larvae are most at risk. Bluefin tuna, now spawning near the spill, are of particular concern. The Gulf of Mexico is one of only two nurseries in the world for bluefin tuna.

  • Animal Whale

    Sperm whales, which spend most of their time diving for prey, may come up in the slick as they reach the surface to breathe.

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