Tag Archives: oil

There’s a Dolphin Baby Bust in the Gulf of Mexico and It’s Concerning

The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is still having devastating effects, even six years later.

A new study found that dolphins in the Gulf aren’t able to have as many babies because of the 2010 BP oil spill, also known as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The study also found that this impact could last for generations.

Researchers examined bottlenose dolphins in a previously contaminated area and found that only 20% of them produced viable calves. These dolphins were from Louisiana’s Barataria Bay, while other dolphins from Florida’s Sarasota Bay were found to have a pregnancy success rate of 83%, according to another study.

Furthermore, the Barataria Bay dolphins experienced lower longevity, with a survival rate of just 87% versus 96% in a similar bottlenose population. Other dolphin populations in the Gulf are suffering similarly, including those in the Mississippi Sound.

Executive director of the National Marine Mammal Foundation and the study’s co-author Cynthia Smith told TakePart:

“We are very concerned about the high rate of reproductive failures among Barataria Bay dolphins, as recovery of the population depends on successful reproduction. Barataria Bay dolphins were more likely to be underweight, have moderate-severe lung disease, and have an impaired stress response. Any one of these conditions could put a pregnancy at risk, as well as make it difficult to care for a newborn.”

Photo by Jason Pratt / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Jason Pratt / CC BY 2.0

The BP oil spill was the worst marine oil spill in U.S. history with around 4.9 million barrels of oil spilling into the Gulf. Dolphins and other marine creatures were exposed to oil by ingestion, absorption through the skin and inhalation.

In February, a government-funded study showed that since 2010, 1,305 dolphins were discovered stranded on Gulf shores and 94% of them were found dead – this represents the longest marine mammal Gulf die-off ever.

The study’s authors wrote:

“Whether the observed reproductive failures are directly related to oil exposure or indirectly related to the oil through a cascade of other health impacts to the adult females, cannot currently be determined. However, given the documented poor health of Barataria Bay dolphins…it is unsurprising to find impacts on reproduction as well.”

If history is any indication of what’s to come, the long-term effects of the BP spill could be disastrous. We could see drastic declines in the populations of dolphins – and other species too – without recovery for decades.

Featured image by sheilapic76 / CC BY 2.0

Shell Abandons Arctic Drilling, Obama Cancels 2016 and 2017 Offshore Oil Leases

In July, the U.S. government gave its approval to Royal Dutch Shell to begin exploratory drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean off Alaska. In September, Shell abandoned its efforts for the “foreseeable future.”

The announcement came after weeks of exploration over the summer, where drilling down to 6,800 feet indicated that oil and gas findings were “not sufficient to warrant further exploration.”

Drilling in the Arctic region would have threatened a great deal of wildlife and people. The region is home to populations of whales, walruses, polar bears, seabirds and other wildlife, as well as local people and communities.

The original drilling site itself would have been risky, too. It was 70 miles from the shore of Alaska and 1,000 miles away from the nearest U.S. Coast Guard station. This, along with with the thick ice and rough sea conditions, would have made it very difficult to detect and contain an accident or oil spill.

Photo by Petr Litvintsev / CC BY-ND 2.0
Photo by Petr Litvintsev / CC BY-ND 2.0

Moreover, Shell has had trouble drilling in the recent past, despite spending an estimated $7 billion on exploring the Arctic for seven years. Problems have included damaged vessels, malfunctioning safety equipment, on-board fires and, most noteworthy, the loss of control of its drilling rig in January 2013. That rig ended up grounding on a pristine island in the Gulf of Alaska, proving just how damaging drilling can be even without oil spills.

Director of WWF’s Global Arctic Programme Alexander Shestakov says:

“Shell’s experience illustrates that further investments in oil development in the Arctic are not worth the risk to Arctic life and livelihoods. We hope this will provide a reality check to other companies considering the unpredictable proposition of Arctic drilling, and that investors will transition their funds instead toward low-carbon solutions.”

Photo by NOAA's National Ocean Service / CC BY 2.0
Photo by NOAA’s National Ocean Service / CC BY 2.0

In addition, the Obama Administration cancelled two potential Arctic offshore oil lease sales in the Chukchi and Beaufort sea that were also jeopardizing the region. These lease sales were originally scheduled for 2016 and 2017, under the current five-year offshore oil and gas leasing program for 2012-2017. The decision to cancel came in late October and was based on poor market conditions and low industry interest. Fortunately, this decision will mitigate future threats to the region.

These actions represent big wins for environmental and conservation groups like Greenpeace in the battle against fossil fuel burning and greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, they are big wins for the wildlife that resides in the Arctic, the local people and the environment in general.

Featured image by Petr Litvintsev / CC BY-ND 2.0