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Dangers lurk deep for all ocean creatures from oil

From today’s Seattle Times:

She has poor skin, bad fur and massive nasal mite infestations – a sign that her immune system isn’t up to snuff.

She stays way too wet and way too cold because her grooming is inefficient, and she must eat to excess just to stay warm.

And then there are the weird head spasms.

“She’d be looking one way, and her head would jerk back,” said C.J. Casson, life-sciences curator at the Seattle Aquarium. “At first we thought the tic was just nerves. Now she actually gets tremors.”

Nuka the sea otter, a popular attraction at the aquarium, has been this way since she was plucked, covered with oil, as a newborn pup from Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989.

No one can say if spilled crude from the Exxon Valdez directly caused Nuka’s stunning array of health woes. But her problems are consistent with the toxic effects of oil, and they offer a glimpse of the dangers lurking below the surface in the Gulf of Mexico.

More below the fold.

Scientists, for the moment, don’t expect as many goo-slathered birds and animals to wash ashore struggling or dead in the Gulf as they saw in Alaska in 1989. Instead, they fear the greatest impact of BP’s spill will be out of sight and more insidious – longterm, widespread marine-life sickness and disease, what biologists call “sublethal effects.”

The millions of gallons of oil moving about under water have the potential to spark deformations in newborn fish, damage immune systems in creatures as diverse as dolphins and oysters, alter the genetic tissue of marine mammals, inflame the lungs of endangered sea turtles and spark new cancers in a host of others.

“The historic poster animals for an oil spill – the black-covered birds and sea otters – we’re not seeing tons of them and probably won’t,” said Greg Bossart, a marine pathologist and chief veterinarian at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.

“The changes we’ll see will be more subtle, but they’re going to be far more profound. They’ll impact the entire ecosystem from the surface to one mile down, from the smallest plankton to sperm whales.

“We’re talking about something that could alter the stability of the marine food web. There’s just no frame of reference for how big this could be.”

Read the article: the long-term implications of this disaster are truly frightening.

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Gregory Gadow

Gregory Gadow


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