Wildlife Wednesdays: BP Oil Spill...10 Years Later | weatherology°
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By: Meteorologist Megan Mulford
Updated: May 27th 2020

Wildlife Wednesdays: BP Oil Spill...10 Years Later

On April 20, 2010 near New Orleans, LA, an explosion occurred at the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig. It caused for over 130 million gallons of crude oil to spill into the Gulf Of Mexico. It was the biggest spill ever in the U.S. waters and is still today one of the worst disasters in world history. Millions of marine animals died as oil gushed into the water for 87 days. One of the hardest hit species were the bottlenose dolphins and sea turtles. About a thousand dolphins died in the months following the spill and a 2017 study determined at least 400,000 sea turtles were exposed to the oil during the spill. 

Fast forward to this year and still many species are feeling the effects from the oil spill. Studies show that some dolphins are still sick to this day from the oil and ingesting toxins from the oil. Other species such as deep-sea coral, loons, and spotted sea trout all have below normal populations since the oil spill. Cynthia Smith, a vet at the National Marine Mammal Foundation, says she is also seeing "higher rates of reproductive failure, lung disease, heart issues, impaired stress response, and death in bottlenose dolphins". She goes onto mention that humans that were exposed to the oil spill show the same symptoms as the dolphins. Two studies were done by other scientists that found "impaired lung and heart function and strained breathing." Another shocking detail in a unpublished study revealed that only 20% of dolphin pregnancies were successful in Louisiana's Barataria Bay compared to areas without oil, which pregnancies are 83% successful. 

Kaitlin Frasier, assistant project scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, is studying how the oil spill as affected other marine animals, especially deep on the ocean floor. She has spent the last 10 years listening for signs of life by echolocation of marine mammals. She mentions "we can't really see the seafloor, so we don't really know how the oil has affected whales and other animals of the sea floor" She goes onto mention that there has been a decline in these echolocations since the oil spill. 

Studies show to this day many fish and birds have evidence of oil exposure! In May 2019, the U.S. Department of the Interior rolled back safety regulations to offshore drilling that were put in place to prevent a repeat of the Deepwater Horizon spill. At the same time, there have been proposed expansions of Gulf protected areas, like the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

Gulf of Mexico
Where the oil spill occurred in April of 2010. Source: Nat Geo
Studies show that some dolphins are still sick to this day from the oil and ingesting toxins from the oil.
Coral is still trying to recover in the Gulf of Mexico 10 years later.