From Marsh Grass to Manatees: The Next Wave of Life Endangered by BP's Oil

By Andrew Moseman | June 21, 2010 12:10 pm

Sperm_whale_flukeBrown pelicans smothered by BP’s oil spill may be the symbols of sadness for the disaster in the Gulf, but they are, of course, far from the only animals affected. Marine scientists are watching other species for signs of danger.


Late last week, scientists spotted the first dead whale seen in the Gulf since the leak began gushing oil in April. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found a 25-foot-long sperm whale washed up, and now it is testing the sea creature for cause of death.

“While it is impossible to confirm whether exposure to oil was the cause of death, NOAA is reviewing whether factors such as ship strikes and entanglement can be eliminated,” the agency said. Samples collected from this carcass will be stored until the Pisces returns to port on July 2, or possibly if another boat is sent to meet the Pisces. Full analysis of the samples will take several weeks [New Orleans Times-Picayune].


So far, it at least appears that manatees have been spared toxic exposure to the ever-growing oil spill. However, a science team hunkered down at Dauphin Island in Alabama—in the path of the oil—say their luck may not hold.

Until recently, biologists believed that manatees rarely ventured west of peninsular Florida, where, so far, no oil has appeared. But in 2007, Ruth Carmichael, who leads the Dauphin Island team, began documenting a relatively large summer migration of manatees to Mobile Bay, Ala. — leading them directly into and through the path of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon leak. From a couple of dozen to as many as 100 come to Mobile Bay for the summer, out of a total North American population of 5,000, she said [The New York Times].

The Little Guys

Large animals produce devastating pictures during a disaster like the BP oil spill. But those large creatures rely on something far less visible to us—the small creatures and plants at the bottom of the food chain—and those might be the most vulnerable of all to the oil, according to ecologist John Caruso.

In particular, the cord and Spartina grasses that grow on the coast of Louisiana are crucial to the ecosystem and especially sensitive to the oil leak, Caruso said. These grasses form the foundation of the local food chain, and their root systems lessen the erosion of the small islands that protect inland Louisiana from hurricanes, Caruso said [LiveScience].


We just don’t know. There are deep water coral living more than 1,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf, but scientists at the moment can’t say how they’re doing. First, they haven’t been able to go there. Second, they don’t have a good model, according to Erik Cordes, who studied deep water coral in Australia.

“If this had happened on a shallow-water reef, there would be a lot more data to evaluate the impact,” Cordes said. “We’re kind of playing catch-up. We’re trying to come up to speed very quickly on this” [Discovery News].

As for the oil leak itself: Late last week BP said its siphoning operation was collecting in excess of 25,000 barrels of oil per day. There’s still plenty they’re not getting: The total flow is now between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels per day. As BP’s relief wells approach their targets, the company says it will be bringing in more tankers to increase its capture capacity to 80,000 by using four ships and two separate pipes.

If you want more fuel for anger, check out the lengthy investigation in yesterday’s New York Times about what BP, its contractors, and the government knew about the weakness of the blowout preventer and other failed systems.

Recent Posts on the Gulf Oil Spill:
80beats: Obama’s Speech on the Oil Spill: What Do You Think of His “Battle Plan”?
80beats: BP to Kevin Costner: We’ll Take 32 of Your Oil Clean-up Machines
80beats: Should We Just Euthanize the Gulf’s Oil-Soaked Birds?
80beats: Meet the Oil-Covered Pelicans, Symbols of the BP Oil Spill
80beats: Scientists Say Gulf Spill Is Way Worse Than Estimated. How’d We Get It So Wrong?

Image: Wikimedia Commons

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
  • Idlewilde

    i hope they try to move the manatees somewhere safe. and if they need any sea grass, there’s some growing at our beach. maybe we could send some when it’s okay for it to grow again.

  • nick

    Considering how bad a job BP has done estimating the flow out of the well, can we trust their figures on how much they’re capturing now? I think not. They initially told us 1/50th or less of the true amount coming out. I suspect their “excess of 25,000 barrels of oil per day” figure may not be accurate.

    And part of the oil they’re siphoning is just being burned off. That’s right, instead of ocean pollution it’s becoming atmospheric pollution. Way less easy to track, was less mediapathic. But still horribly toxic.

  • lukie

    I don’t care what people say, Obama is 100% responsible for this spill! If he really cared about this country he would freeze BP’s assets, fine them every single day until the leek is fixed, charge them with murder for their negligence. Do these things and BP will fix the gusher faster than you can blink. But we can’t expect anything more from a guy who’s from the most corrupt city in this country, can we? A city where you can go to jail for life for an once of weed on you. But kill a bunch of people and the wildlife and you get to go yachting in the sunshine in a part of the ocean that you didn’t destroy.

  • Drums

    How is it Obama’s fault? The regulations were made years before Obama came into office. It’s not his fault that the people who worked for the people who came before him were corrupt.

  • lukie

    It’s his fault that BP is still in operation, not because of the corrupt people before him. Only the president would have the power to shut BP down. I don’t see that happening.

  • Lizzie

    How is this BPs oil? Companies drill oil to make a profit – if YOU didn’t buy it then there would be no deep water drilling. Where is the cry “Drill baby drill” now? The senate knows that ALL Big Oil operates the same way as BP. Now they have overturned the “no drill” from Mr Obama. Don’t drill somewhere you can’t get man hands on to fix.


    Hi from Dawn–I love manatees–they are the most
    harmless friendly and endangered species,even w/propellers/poisoned kelp/etc,
    and now they get coated w/BP oil!
    “pelican brief” move over–all the wetlands already
    dead–maybe a few clean (de-oiled) pelicans get to retire in Texas, but who’s saving the manatees??
    A couple of the manatees in nets last wknd–
    well DOH!
    Meanwhile the asshole G-20/G-8 leaders are being hosted
    to a Billion-dollar boon-doggle in Toronto & Huntsville.
    Get 5 metres away from the barricades w/o ID and reason for being near.there, get busted along w/any camera you might have!
    How much time will they spend finding (or even TRYING)
    any solutions to the worst ecological disaster in the history of this planet Earth?
    Please let my voice be heard!


    ps from dawn–I ride a bike, and take public transit, and
    recycle. How much energy was wasted just to barricade Toronto and pay overtime to cops–targetted by “protesters” who couldn’t get closer than 5 metres to
    a non-locked-down-area, so they sealed all of University
    Ave too! Must snooze now– getting to work Sat will take
    extra time!

  • lmw264


    See Article: Compares EVTN to Costner’s machine

    EVTN has been contacted by BP and is in the processes of being review. As you know, like everything BP has been doing… there is alot of red tape.

    As of December 31, 2009, EVTN has completed multiple projects with their Voraxial Separators, including units to Transocean, ConocoPhillips, Repsol, OMV, Uranium One, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the United States Navy and Cameco.

    Take a look at web site: ….I PROMISE… you will be impressed on what you see.


  • Irfaan Desai

    Well I truly enjoyed studying it. This post offered by you is very effective for accurate planning.


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