Is Gulf oil killing whale sharks?

Research findings indicate that the oil spill off the coast of Mexico may be endangering the lives of these animals.

Biologist Eric Hoffmayer, who studies whale sharks at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory said that “This spill’s impact came at the worst possible time and in the worst possible location for whale sharks. We’ve seen aerial photos with animals within a few miles of the wellhead and swimming in thick oil.

At the end of the day, if these animals were feeding in an area where there was surface oil, and if they ingested oil, there is a good possibility that they died and sank to the bottom. At this point we have no idea how many animals have been impacted.”

via Is Gulf oil killing the whale sharks?

Dr. M (1720 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 40 papers in the area. He has participated in dozens of expeditions taking him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses mainly on marine systems and particularly the biology of body size, biodiversity, and energy flow. He focuses often on deep-sea systems as a natural test of the consequences of energy limitation on biological systems. He is the author and chief editor of Deep-Sea News, a popular deep-sea themed blog, rated the number one ocean blog on the web and winner of numerous awards. Craig’s popular writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.

3 comments on “Is Gulf oil killing whale sharks?
  1. “… the movements show that they are dispersing from the Gulf of Mexico to the spill zone.”

    I wonder what this means. Whale sharks throughout the Gulf are aggregating in the region of the spill?

  2. Peter, I think they mean that whale sharks move into the Gulf during the summertime, which could put them right in harms way. We don’t know a huge amount about where they go, but the basic idea is that they are out in the Atlantic in the winter months, then they show up in Hunduras, Belize and Mexico in the spring and summer, and then disperse into the Gulf in the late summer and fall, possibly heading down the west side of Florida and out through the Florida straits (to breed somewhere?). We DO know that the Caribbean and GoM populations are one and the same; animals tagged in each place often show up in the others. Based on anecdotes from Bob Hueter and Eric Hoffmayer and our own observations (I do whale shark research for Georgia Aquarium), it seems that they ARE changing their behaviour this year: hugging the coast a lot and showing up in places were they haven’t been reported for years. Unfortunately its just so logistically hard to get a robust picture on where they go and when and why; they’re still a big ol’ enigma a lot of the time.

  3. The spill happened at ground zero for the feeding and migration of these critters. You could not have planned it any better.

    Another reason why Dr.H and company could use a 500K grant to deploy the assets they need for a long term post oil monitoring project.

    I consider these whale sharks as the several ton “canaries in the oilfield”

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