List of Animals Affected and Endangered by the Gulf of Mexico BP Oil Spill
List of Endangered Species From The Gulf Oil Spill
It has long been known that pollution caused by human activity can have tragic effects on wildlife. From the toxic runoff from heavy industry, to accidental environmental contamination and the use of DDT in the last half of the 20th Century, countless animals have been faced with extinction as a direct result of human activity. Whether the pollution was intentional or accidental, regulated or not, the devastation it can cause is undeniable.
In April 2010, the BP-owned Deepwater Horizon oil rig failed, killing 11 workers and releasing an unprecedented amount of crude oil into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. In the months that followed, efforts to cap the leak failed, and the oil began reaching shore in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. With hurricane season looming, the forecast was dire – hurricane force winds and waves could force the oil inland and alter local underwater currents, possibly spreading the contamination well beyond the Gulf.
NASA Satellites' View of Gulf BP Oil Spill Over Time
One of the inevitable consequences of this unprecedented oil spill by BP will be a dire impact on many animal species in the region, quite a few of which were already in trouble before the massive release of oil into the Gulf.
Most of the animals immediately affected were sea creatures – from fish to turtles to marine mammals – and as the oil reached closer to land, other animals – nesting and migrating birds, especially – began to feel the impact of this environmental catastrophe.
The long term results of this disaster will affect not just the animals directly in the path of the leaking BP oil, but also the millions of people who rely on the natural bounty of the Gulf for their livelihood. From fisherman to beachfront business owners, the impact of the Gulf oil spill will be a heavy one for years to come…
Some of the animal species endangered by the Gulf oil spill
Endangered Species Facts and Photos
Prior to the 2010 Gulf BP oil spill, the Bluefin Tuna was already in danger of extinction. Efforts by the international community to place the fish on the endangered species list were fought off by Japan and several “puppet” nations during the most recent meeting IUCN Endangered Species Conference. Despite the clear problems caused by over-fishing in the waters of the world, the species was left off of the Endangered Species list, and will almost certainly be fished into extinction as their population is demolished for use as food.
The Gulf oil spill came at the worst possible time of year. The Bluefin Tuna that populate the Gulf of Mexico were beginning their annual spawn just as the spill occurred. With their worldwide population already depleted by 90% since the 1970s, any hope for the survival of the Bluefin populations in the Gulf is unlikely. One of the components of the clean up strategy is the use of “dispersants” to break up the surface oil and prevent it from washing ashore. Instead, the oil would sink to the bottom of the Gulf, where Bluefin Tuna and other spawning fish lay their eggs.
The Brown Pelican is Louisiana’s state bird, and it was placed on the Endangered Species list in the 1970s after the species was nearly wiped out due to the use of DDT. Finally approaching recovery, the Brown Pelican was removed from the Endangered Species list in November of 2009. Just 6 months later, the worst oil spill in U.S. history occurred right in the birds’ primary habitat, the Gulf of Mexico.
Brown Pelicans, like other diving birds, are severely affected by any oil spill, and the BP oil spill is no different. The surface coating of oil on the water means that the birds’ feathers become soaked with oil every time they dive for food. This coating of oil can remove the natural waterproofing in their feathers, causing them to drown. Even if only a small bit of oil covers its feathers, the Brown Pelican can lose its ability to keep warm, and the birds can freeze to death in cooler weather.
Bottlenose Dolphins and Sperm Whales
Marine mammals that inhabit the Gulf of Mexico, like Bottlenose Dolphins and Sperm Whales, can be severely impacted by the presence of oil in the water. The oil on the surface of the water can enter the animals’ blowholes when the surface to breath, and the toxic fumes emitted by nearby crude oil and the fumes from controlled burning can cause irritation and lung damage. The ingesting of oil-contaminated fish can lead to poisoning, and the sensitive skin of these marine mammals can become irritated and infected by coming into contact with oil both on and below the surface of the water.
Sperm Whale populations around the world have been at risk for decades. Though hunting of these largest of the toothed-whales has been banned for decades, the already devastated populations have had a difficult time recovering their historical numbers. The area around the Gulf oil spill is prime Sperm Whale habitat, and since their time to maturity is quite long, even the loss of just a few animals can severely impact the long-term population levels of the species.
Already listed as endangered around the globe, the turtle species that inhabit the Gulf of Mexico are further threatened by the oil spill. Of the seven remaining sea turtle species on Earth, five are present in the Gulf of Mexico. The most endangered of these species, the Kemp’s ridley turtle, nests along the beaches of the Gulf in the early summer, and the area immediately surrounding the damaged oil pipe was one of this turtle’s last remaining feeding grounds in the Gulf.
Dangers to sea turtles from spilled oil include contamination of the fish and other small animals they eat, as well as damage to underwater seaweed beds where they feed. When dispersants are used to drive floating oil to the bottom of the Gulf, these seabeds become contaminated.
Inhalation of toxic fumes from the BP oil spill when the turtles surface to breath can also prove deadly. All of the turtle species in the Gulf use the soft sand beaches in the region to build their nests. Over the centuries, human development of these areas has made nesting areas harder to find, and contamination by oil washing ashore will only lower the chances that some of these marine turtle species can survive in the Gulf of Mexico.
Nesting and Migrating Birds
The timing of the Gulf oil spill corresponds to the migration period for many bird species traveling between North and South America in the late spring and early summer. Many migratory species use the Gulf region as a resting area on their long journeys, and they must deal with the contamination of the small islands, marshes and shoreline beaches they frequent. It is not known just how the toxic smoke caused by controlled burning of surface oil will affect the birds as they pass through it.
For nesting birds in the Gulf region, the contamination of the beaches and marshlands where they nest will lead to fewer nesting sites, and some birds, like the already threatened Least Tern and Reddish Egret, may not be able to survive in the region for much longer.
Louisiana is the main producer of Blue Crabs in all of the United States, and the Gulf oil spill will wreak untold devastation on the local population. All fishing and crabbing was stopped soon after the spill began, and countless fisherman – from single-boat self-employed fisherman to large-scale commercial crabbers – have been put out of commission for the foreseeable future.
Use of dispersants in the clean up efforts will cause a great deal of surface oil to be driven to the floor of the Gulf, where bottom feeders like the Blue Crab forage. Contamination of their food source will certainly have a tremendous negative impact on the ongoing survival of this and many other food species in the Gulf of Mexico.
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Oiled-Pelicans photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ibrrc/4670207222/ / CC BY 2.0
Bluefin tune photo from WikiMedia / CC BY 2.5
Brown Pelicans photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/alanvernon/3304379792/ / CC BY 2.0
Bottlenose Dolphin photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/nikonvscanon/2427517405/ / CC BY 2.0
Sperm Whale Fluke photo in the Public Domain from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sperm_whale_fluke.jpg
Kemp's Ridley Turtle photo in the Public Domain from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Padre_Island_National_Seashore_-_Kemps_Ridley_Sea_Turtle.jpg
Loggerhead Turtle photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/coda/380361/ / CC BY 2.0
Least Tern photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsnortheast/ / CC BY 2.0
Reddish Egret photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/26101082@N00/4448549643/ / CC BY 2.0
Blue Crabs photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/nate/101716916/ / CC BY 2.0