Iain Kerr Reports from the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Conference

This post comes from Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr in the snowy Gulf of Mexico:

John Wise and Iain KerrIt was a very full few days here at the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Conference.  Over 800 dedicated people.  If there is any good news coming out of the BP disaster it is the increased interest in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.   Part of what drives me is to try to get people to appreciate that we live on planet Ocean not planet Earth.  The largest mediating force on this planet is our oceans, not our land masses. Alas the oceans are downhill from everything and as a consequence are becoming humanity’s sewer.

Even though there are 24 species of marine mammals (including manatee’s) that are found in the Gulf of Mexico I could only find three poster presentations on marine mammals and two of those three were conducted entirely, or in part, from Ocean Alliance’s RV Odyssey.

When we collect toxicology data from whales one thing that our scientific partners at the Wise Laboratory do is grow cell lines from the biopsies that we take from live whales. The Wise lab then expose these living whale cells to different concentrations (doses) of different environmental toxicants.

At the Conference Dr. Wise presented a poster the lead author of which was his daughter Cathy Wise.  While we cannot report on the hard data since the poster will be written up into two papers it does suggest that two dispersants Corexit 9500 and 9527 alone are cytotoxic (kill) whale cells grown in culture (after 24 hours) and that toxicity (and cell death) increases with chemical concentration or dose.

Cathy exposed whale cells grown in culture to oil mixed with dispersants, and  oil alone.  While more work has to be done this experiment strongly suggests that dispersed oil was more toxic than oil alone.

Odyssey with oil rigThe whale cells in this experiment were collected aboard the RV Odyssey in the Gulf of Mexico – in this case the oil used was the thicker oil from the Exxon Valdez oil disaster as against the BP disaster.  The Wise laboratory is planning to conduct the same experiment with the oil found in the Gulf of Mexico.

Our goal here is to try to better understand the effects of oil and dispersed oil on marine mammals so that we can help policymakers make wise decisions about future use.