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BP Spill Residue Found in Minnesota Pelican Eggs

pelicans

An American white pelican sits on her nest in Minnesota. [Image via Minnesota Public Radio]

The impacts of the Deepwater Horizon are being felt in -- you guessed it -- Minnesota.

White pelicans that winter in the Gulf of Mexico and have lived in an oiled Gulf have migrated to far away places such as Minnesota to lay eggs, and the contaminants inside them have traveled as well.

Preliminary testing by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources shows that petroleum compounds were present in 90 percent of the first batch of eggs tested and nearly 80 percent of the eggs contained the chemical dispersant used during the spill, called COREXIT.

The contamination of white pelican eggs is a bad sign for the developing embryos and potentially their populations. The researchers will be continuing to monitor impacts on the population for years to come, and the true impacts may not be realized for decades.

Mark Clark, a researcher helping with these studies, says, “Any contaminant that makes its way into the bird could be bad, but it could be especially bad if it gets into the egg because that's where the developing embryo and chick starts. And when things go wrong at that stage, there's usually no recovery."

The immediate loss of pelicans and other birds that were covered in oil during the spill was amazingly disheartening and graphic. But these types of sub-lethal impacts show how the next generation may be affected.

While these effects are less noticeable, they are even more concerning for the future of the population. Nearly half of all the bird species that live in the United States spend at least part of the winter in the Gulf of Mexico, and the health of the Gulf is globally significant for birds.

After the Exxon Valdez spill, more than 88% of the birds that were found dead were outside of Prince William Sound, the area immediately affected by the spill, and the number of dead birds found was only a fraction of the total killed by the spill.

The combination of those direct losses, poor reproductive success and changes in the habitat, has prevented some species from recovering, even 20 years later. Although we don’t yet know the long-term impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill, these contaminants in eggs serve as a warning sign of things to come.

We need to make sure that BP and the other responsible parties are held accountable for the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill that have likely impacted hundreds to thousands of species.

Even more importantly we need to recognize that these contaminated eggs, and the ongoing damages to wildlife, are part of the overall problem with offshore drilling and spilling. We have much better options for energy, such as offshore wind, and we should use them.


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Marine Monday: Tasseled Wobbegong

tasseled wobbegong

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Some sharks are fearsome predators, all sharp teeth and angular fins. These are the sharks that inspire epic monster movies and give the word “shark” its fearsome connotations.

And then there are sharks that look like a pile of seaweed. The tasseled wobbegong is a flat reef-dwelling shark with leafy tentacles and a name that’s just as ridiculous as its appearance.

But appearances can be deceiving. The tasseled wobbegong settles down on a rock or reef, blending in perfectly with the sand and seaweed. When a tasty fish swims by, the shark comes to life, opening its jaws full of sharp, respectable teeth and snapping the poor swimmer up. Its tasseled face may look rather silly, but this shark is just as efficient a predator as its more fearsome brethren.

Sadly, we don’t know much about the tasseled wobbegong, but we do know that this sneaky hunter is in trouble thanks to overfishing and the destruction of the reefs it depends on.

Oceana is committed to protecting the habitats of tasseled wobbegongs and all the other strange and mysterious creatures of the deep.


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A Proposition to Protect California’s Parks

The California coast near Monterey. (via Wikimedia Commons)

California’s Parks System faced collapse last year and the picture for the coming years looks grim.

Enter Proposition 21, a statewide ballot initiative that offers hope to help ensure our 278 state parks and beaches stay up and running and our wildlife and marine resources are protected. Prop 21 establishes a stable, reliable and adequate funding source through an $18 increase in the California vehicle registration fee. These funds will be directly deposited into a State Parks and Wildlife Conservation Trust Fund and can only be used for operation of state parks and protection of ocean resources and wildlife.


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Diving in Tarpon Springs, FL

A brief update from the boat by Elizabeth Wilson, and some gorgeous photographs:

Sept. 21:

Today the dive team went to Tarpon Springs, which is just a little north of St. Petersburg, FL to dive. Tarpon Springs is named for the tarpons (a species of fish) which can often be seen leaping out of the water in this area.  The name fits -- we’ve seen many tarpons leaping out of the water from the Latitude in recent days.

While visibility on the dive wasn’t ideal, the dive team was still able to get some amazing pictures: 

 


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Day 6: Back to Reality

Here’s your expedition update for today, from Oceana’s senior campaign communications manager Dustin Cranor:

News flash – the oil in the Gulf is not gone.

Although there have been lots of media reports that the oil in the Gulf is "gone," two new scientific studies were released today that give a different -- and less rosy -- picture.

First, independent scientists estimate that as much as 80 percent of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill is still in the Gulf. Even if it's only 50 percent, that’s a lot of oil. Second, and even more disturbing, scientists discovered oil from the spill on the seafloor of Desoto Canyon, which means that oil could be in shallower waters where vulnerable habitats exist.

Oceana believes that the worst of the oil’s impacts are yet to be seen. As part of our effort to document valuable and vulnerable habitats, we took advantage of our location and dove not too far from the same beach that President Obama recently visited in Panama City.

On this nearly 90 foot dive, Oceana’s divers spotted tiny corals, arrow crabs, hermit crabs, flatfish, soapfish and butterflyfish, all species at risk from the effects of oil spills. What many do not realize is that there is simply no effective way to remove oil from coral.

Look at some of the incredible creatures our divers spotted:

 

 


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Dissecting the Cause of Death in the Gulf

A kemp's ridley sea turtle. © Oceana/Cory Wilson

Warning: what follows isn’t exactly light reading.

The New York Times reported yesterday on the complicated task of performing necropsies -- i.e., animal autopsies -- on sea turtles and other creatures that have been found dead in the Gulf of Mexico since the spill started.

It’s not easy to determine the cause of death of these creatures. Of the 1,978 birds, 463 turtles and 59 marine mammals found dead in the Gulf since April 20th, few show visible signs of oil contamination.

And in the case of sea turtles, a more familiar culprit may be at fault: shrimp trawls and other commercial fishing gear that scoop up turtles as bycatch and prevent them from going to the surface to breathe.

Here’s a simplified breakdown of how the veterinary investigators begin to determine the cause of death:


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Oil Spill Quote of the Day

From yesterday’s New York Times:

“This is a much bigger problem than people are making out,” said Barbara Block, a Stanford researcher who is among the world’s leading experts on the bluefin tuna. “The concern for wildlife is not just along the coast; it is also at sea. We’re putting oil right into the bluewater environment.”


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New Report: The Oil Spill's Impact on Sea Turtles

© AP/Dave Martin

Today we released a new report that describes the potential effects of the oil spill on endangered sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sea turtles can become coated in oil or inhale volatile chemicals when they surface to breathe, swallow oil or contaminated prey, and swim through oil or come in contact with it on nesting beaches.

As of yesterday, 32 oiled sea turtles have been found in the Gulf of Mexico and more than 320 sea turtles have been found dead or injured since the spill began April 20.

While some dead and injured sea turtles are found by search crews or wash up on the beach, some never will. Ocean currents often carry them out to sea where they can sink or be eaten by predators.

Our report shows that the ongoing oil spill can have the following impacts on sea turtles:


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Q&A with Ocean Hero Jay Holcomb

Jay Holcomb

Jay Holcomb, left, is this year's Ocean Hero.

This year’s Adult Ocean Hero is Jay Holcomb, the Executive Director of the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC). As I wrote a few weeks ago, Jay is down on the Gulf Coast leading his organization’s efforts to clean up oiled birds from the Deepwater Horizon spill.

How does it feel to win this award?   

In a nut shell, it feels really great. I never did the work I do expecting to be awarded for it. My career stems from a passion that has burned in me since I was a child. Being recognized for helping to protect and represent the oceans more or less justifies the sacrifices I have made in my life for my work.    

The timing is pretty incredible, huh?  

It’s ironic and poignant that I won this award while I am in the midst of what is looking like the greatest oil spill disaster of all time, and that of course is polluting the ocean and the ecosystems within it.

The impact on the ocean and the world will be severe. This we know. But as horrible as this spill is, the timing may be perfect. This disaster is an opportunity to make the point that the ocean systems are the lifeblood of life on earth as we know it.

Look at what our quest for oil has done, and if this does not evoke a change in how we "fuel" our world then nothing will. We are ALL responsible for this. Not just BP or the oil industry or our government.  


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The Oiled Bird Photographs Are Here

A brown pelican is seen on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast on Thursday, June 3, 2010. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Nearly six weeks after the Deepwater Horizon exploded, the first truly gutwrenching photos of oiled birds have arrived. Here at Oceana, we've been thinking about the oil spill constantly - and yet it's amazing that one image can be so heartbreaking.

Update Friday afternoon: The New York Times' Lens blog has a nice column about the meaning of these first, intimate images of animals in distress. And the AP photo editor who published the images has this hopeful thing to say about the fate of the birds pictured: "I'm told that the birds that were still alive — mostly pelicans and up to 40 of them — were taken to a bird cleaning facility in Ft. Jackson and are being cared for."

Meanwhile, we've surpassed 75,000 signatures on our petition to end offshore drilling. Please add your name to the list if you haven't already.

For more photos, visit Boston.com.


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