Think “oil spill,” and the first images that may come to mind are a rainbow oil-sheen, tar balls on the beach, and oil-soaked birds. These were just some of the things that we saw after the DeepWater Horizon oil spill, in 2010, but the effects are ongoing.
The DeepWater Horizon hasn’t been in the news, that much, lately, because there are plenty of things to distract us from the ongoing effects. In the first weeks and months following the spill, perhaps millions of animals died from exposure to the nearly five million barrels of crude oil released in the accident. The cleanup efforts may have been worse than the spill itself, dumping millions of tons of chemicals into the ocean to disperse the oil so it can degrade. Tar balls, as well as sick and dying animals, are still washing ashore from the spill, nearly four years later.
Take the dolphins that inhabit the Gulf of Mexico, which typically live to be forty or fifty years of age, one population living in the DeepWater Horizon oil spill zone, and the other population safely thousands of miles away. Sarasota Bay, Florida, and Barataria Bay, Lousiana, are both in the Gulf of Mexico, but ocean currents kept the Sarasota Bay dolphins relatively safe from the spill. NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) researchers have examined dolphins from both of these zones, and the difference is shocking.
About thirty dolphins examined in the Barataria Bay area received comprehensive examinations, about 50% of which were described as being in “guarded or worse” condition, and another 17% were “not expected to survive.” Doctor Lori Schwacke said, in an NOAA press release, “I’ve never seen such a high prevalence of very sick animals.” In comparison to the Sarasota Bay dolphins, other scientists in the study concluded that the DeepWater Horizon oil-spill contributed to a five-fold increase in the prevalence of severe lung disease.