This spring I was deeply concerned that Ocean Alliance would not be able to return to the Gulf of Mexico to continue the work Dr. John Wise and I started in 2010 looking at the effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on marine mammals. Around that time I was talking with my good friend Alex Cornelissen (Shepherd Global Executive Officer) about another mutual concern and the Gulf came up in discussion. Less than a month later Alex told me that we would be returning to the Gulf with the full support of Sea Shepherd Global and so Operation Toxic Gulf was born.
The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster was an accident; while others work to make sure that this type of accident never happens again, Sea Shepherd, Ocean Alliance and its scientific partners and are working to make sure that the treatment of oil disasters in the future not only removes the oil from sight but also from the food chain. We believe that it is vitally important to understand the effects of dispersants used in the Gulf on offshore species so that should this type of accident ever happen again the response can be as environmentally responsible as possible. Ocean Alliance and Sea Shepherd now fear that the oil, dispersants, metals and discharge from the Mississippi have placed the sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico among the most polluted whales in the world. There is compelling evidence that all is not well in the Gulf : http://phys.org/news/2012-11-gulf-mexico-clean-up-times-toxic.html
This campaign has focused on Gulf sperm whales because they are at the top of the Gulf’s food chain and, as such, they can act as a bio-indicator of the health of the entire ecosystem. Ocean Alliance, its scientific partners and Sea Shepherd will be able to put any discoveries they make in the Gulf into a global context due to the fact that from 2000 to 2005 the RV Odyssey circumnavigated the globe collecting baseline data on the levels of pollutants and metals in sperm whales. With this unique data set, the organizations and partners expect to better understand the effects of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster and the massive use of dispersants, on whales. Earlier this year Dr. Wise hosted a 5 speaker session on the Gulf of Mexico at the 2013 American Academy for the Advancement of Science annual conference (AAAS) (http://aaas.confex.com/aaas/2013/webprogram/Session5744.html). Not only is this a huge endorsement of our work so far but this is also the type of venue at which the data from the Gulf needs to be presented if we hope to get corporations to think of the potential long term effects on wildlife of using a chemical like Corexit to clean up oil spills.
We hope to return to the Gulf in 2014 so this winter we will be fundraising and working with our scientific partners to analyze the data that we and the Wise Laboratory team have collected in the Gulf over the last four years. Since we are looking at the chronic effects as against the short-term effects of this disaster this analysis will take years. But as each analysis phase is completed we will publish papers, post papers online and present at conferences alerting the world to what we have learned. Preliminary sample analysis for metals conducted by Environmental Toxicologist Dr. John Wise suggests that whales in the Gulf are carrying higher loads of metals than what we have found in our global data set. Considering that whales are at the top of the Gulf’s food chain it seems only likely that these animals are at risk not only from the oil and the dispersants but also from the metals that were released into the Gulf during the Deepwater Horizon disaster. While there are thought to be over 1,600 sperm whales in the Gulf there are only an estimated 15 to 30 Bryde’s whales. The Gulf spill could be the final nail in their coffin.
As to everyone who made this expedition and collaboration a success – (and I apologize that I cannot thank you all personally here), I can say with utter conviction that you inspire me! I see real hope for the wild world when I know we have dedicated souls such as those I worked with this summer both aboard the RV Odyssey and ashore. To our new partners at Sea Shepherd we thank you deeply not only for your support but also for your hard work, determination, good will and no compromise attitude. We are very lucky in all that we had an opportunity to do and see in the Gulf this year, but none of this would have been possible without an immense amount of hard work by a very dedicated group of individuals – it has been a real pleasure and an honor to work with you all. I Thank You. I do want to make an exception by thanking two people who are never on the boats, seen in any photos or mentioned in the press – our web guru Robert Baker and my moral compass and wife Amy Kerr without whom I could not do any of this.
As to our followers you have no idea how much it has meant to us to know that you have been with us on this journey through thick and thin. I hope that you all have a great summer and that you will stay with us and work with us (fundraise with us) so that we can return to the Gulf in 2014!
For the whales,