Whale Sharks Threatened by Gulf Oil Spill; 5 Other Animal Species at Risk
In June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed 38 species protected by the Endangered Species Act that it said could be harmed by the BP oil spill. Of those species, 29 are endangered. As of June 29, 1,165 birds had been collected dead, while 858 had been collected alive but visibly covered in oil. Sea turtles: 436 collected dead, 101 collected alive with visible oil. Mammals, including dolphins: 51 collected dead, two collected alive with visible oil.
Surge Desk compiles a list of six of BP's animal victims to date:
1. Whale Sharks
Scientists on Monday spotted three whale sharks, a threatened species, in the oil-laden waters a few miles from the BP well site, The Associated Press reports. Eric Hoffmayer, a scientist with the USM Gulf Coast Research Lab, said it would be impossible to tell how many whale sharks had died from the oil spill because they sink to the ocean floor when they die. Whale sharks are the biggest type of fish, with some growing to be 40 feet long, weighing up to 36 tons, and living as long as 70 years. To feed, they skim the surface of the water, sucking in plankton -- and oil, if they are in the wrong place.
2. Sea Turtles
Animal welfare groups are now suing BP for burning sea turtles to death during its controlled burns of the slick. The Animal Welfare Institute, Centre for Biological Diversity, Turtle Island Restoration Network and Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against the oil company Wednesday, saying the burns violate the Endangered Species Act. Included in those endangered sea turtles is the Kemp's Ridley, considered to be critically endangered -- one step away from being extinct in the wild. BP could be facing fines of $50,000 per endangered animal killed, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
3. Brown Pelicans
Among the most enduring images of the BP oil disaster will likely be AP photographer Charlie Riedel's shots of oil-coated brown pelicans and other sea birds struggling on the shores of East Grand Terre Island, La. The brown pelican was put on the endangered species list in 1970, precipitating a ban on the pesticide DDT in 1972. It was taken off the list just last fall, and now conservationists are concerned the spill will erase hard-won gains in the bird's population.
At the beginning of May, six dolphins were found dead and stranded on shore, but experts warned that the oil spill may not have been what did them in. At the end of May, scientists in the Barataria Pass recovered another dead dolphin. And last week, beachgoers near Pensacola, Fla., spotted a baby dolphin covered in oil and beached on the sand. Rescuers tried to save it, but the dolphin died en route to a rescue facility.
5. Sperm Whales
The first dead whale was found on June 15 by NOAA scientists, 77 miles from the Deepwater Horizon site, though NOAA had already received several reports of sperm whales swimming in oily waters. Tests have not yet been conducted to determine if the whale died from the oil, but NOAA said in a press release that it is concerned about the effects of the oil spill on sperm whales, which are "the only endangered resident cetaceans in the upper Gulf of Mexico."
6. Bluefin Tuna
After years of being overfished to sate our appetites for sushi, endangered bluefin tuna are now at risk from the oil spill, which is seeping into their Gulf of Mexico breeding grounds. The tuna may have been covered in oil when they laid their eggs, and the eggs may have been damaged by the chemical dispersants that were dumped into the water to break up the oil.
"This is a real blow," Bill Fox, managing director for fisheries at the World Wildlife Fund, told Bloomberg Businessweek. "The oil plus the dispersants are likely to have a huge effect."