BP Oil Spill: Start Worrying About Whale Sharks

We can see the oil-coated pelicans, the tar-balled beaches, and the dead marine mammals that wash up. But its a lot harder to know what is going on beneath the surface. And Pete Thomas sounds a warning over what might be happening to one of the oceans’ gentlest and most beguiling beasts: the whale shark.

Here is what Pete says:

Now it’s feared that another of nature’s iconic marine creatures — the whale shark, which is the world’s largest fish — will soon be included on a checklist of spill victims long enough to fill afield guide.

Sylvia Earle, an explorer-in-residence at National Geographic, agreed with the assessment that many of the more than 100 whale sharks she and other scientists encountered recently during an expedition 70 miles off Louisiana might be “on death row” because much of their historic feeding habitat is closer to shore, within the spill zone.

Whale sharks, long-distance travelers that can measure 40 feet, were once harvested globally. They’re classified as “vulnerable,” one step up from “endangered” on a red list published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Little is known about migration patterns of whale sharks that utilize the Gulf of Mexico. But some are believed to help support recreational diving industries off Belize and elsewhere in the Caribbean.

What is known is that these gentle giants are filter-feeders who spend much of their time skimming for plankton and small fishes at or near the surface. Unfortunately, this is where spilled oil tends to gather, so the future looks bleak for whale sharks unable to steer clear of now-tarnished areas, such as the Mississippi River Delta, in which they’ve feed for perhaps millions of years.

Dr. Eric Hoffmayer, a scientist with the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, says at least five whale sharks have been spotted within 20 miles of the spill area. The number might be much greater were it not for boating and fishing restrictions that have limited the number of people who typically report such sightings.

I’m always amazed at how little we really know about some of the planet’s most impressive creatures, and critical ecosystems. Which only makes me wonder at the unintended damage we busy, busy humans do to them as we pursue our busy little lives.

When we will start pricing those externalities, those consequences, into oil, our economies, and the avalanche of consumer goods no one seems to be able contemplate doing without? When will we all step back and live lives that see the whole planet instead of just the things that affect our comfort and well-being? Probably never?

Here’s a video to make you think about that:

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Calling Jacques Cousteau

With BP oil flooding the Gulf of Mexico, and young Cousteaus flooding the cable news airwaves, I was glad to see Wired honoring Jacques’ one hundredth birthday anniversary with a mini-video retrospective.

Cousteau opened up the undersea world to generations of otherwise indifferent humans. And the degree of outrage we see today over BP is in no small part thanks to the awareness of the beauty and magnificence of the universe that exists beneath the surface of our oceans.

I wonder what Jacques would be doing and saying if he were still alive today?
Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Jacques Cousteau: The Fathoms Deep“, posted with vodpod
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The Power Of Video Is Turned On BP’s Tony Hayward

If you had any doubts about the mismatch between BP CEO Tony Hayward‘s words and the reality of what is going on in the Gulf Of Mexico, the NRDC has made this video to set you straight. Sure, it uses pictures, music and words to crucify the guy. But doesn’t he, along with BP, deserve it?

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The Story Of Whaling (In A Cool Online Graphic)

Fantastic representation of the whaling situation, in a series of interactive graphics from the Humane Society Of The US, the Animal Welfare Institute, and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

WDCS, AWI and HSI have launched an animated online-tool to provide all the facts and figures the public needs to know about whaling. Whaling in the 21st Century and Before shows the total number of whales killed since 1946, the enormous success of the international ban on commercial whaling and continued whaling activities by Iceland, Norway and Japan.

The graphs show how whaling countries are manipulating the quotas, effectively blackmailing the international community. It sheds light on the ‘deal’ being proposed for adoption at the end of June.

Goto Whaling in the 21st Century and Before and find out the truth about whaling.

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World Oceans Day Blues (Save Me Roz Savage!)

Plastic Ocean
Image by Kevin Krejci via Flickr

Today is World Oceans Day. The right thing to do, I suppose, would be to write my own World Ocean’s Day post. But to be honest, I feel like devoting one annual day to Earth Day, or Oceans Day, is a pretty pathetic response to the magnitude of the damage our little comfort and consumer-obsessed species is doing to both the wet and dry parts of the planet every single day. So if an annual day makes anyone feel like they are somehow absolved from all their usual ocean-killing habits and priorities–because they gave up fish for lunch, or sent out a tweet–and no one really changes their behavior in a big way, then it is sort of pointless, isn’t it?

Every day should be Oceans Day, if you think about it, because it is our everyday actions that are the problem. And if we could somehow manage to think about the consequences of those actions every day, then that would be something revolutionary. But most people don’t. They acknowledge Oceans Day for a day (if that) and move on. And then when BP blows out a deepwater well and pumps an unimaginable amount of oil into one of he world’s most valuable and fragile ecosystems there is a paroxysm of anger and complaint.

But that outcry would only be exceeded by the blowback and outrage we would hear if, say, President Obama and Congress moved forward on a real carbon tax, or simply asked the nation to stop air conditioning its homes and offices at near-frigid temps in the summer, and tropical highs in the winter.

Gulf-Oiled-Pelicans-June-3-2010
Image by IBRRC via Flickr

Our collective and cultural awareness, and willingness to make sacrifices in response, is just completely, completely out of synch with the actual demands of the problem.

Whew. That’s depressing, which is another reason I thought it best not to write about World Oceans Day (though somehow I just have).

Anyhow, what I intended was to let Roz Savage (who is not a dismal, Wetass-class, pessimist, and is, instead, a fantastic, ocean-rowing, phenomenon) tell you about World Oceans Day, because I liked her blend of urgency and hope that it is not too late to act.

Until this year, I felt uncomfortable when people tried to label me as an “advocate for the oceans”. It wasn’t a label I had chosen, and I felt it didn’t fit me. The Atlantic Ocean beat me up pretty badly in 2005-6, and I was still bearing a grudge. My relationship with the ocean could best be described as ambivalent. I regarded her as a tough taskmaster, who occasionally tried to kill me. Not the best basis for a happy relationship.

But this year two things have happened that have softened my attitude towards the vast blue bits of our planet.

First, there was TED Mission Blue. For two days I received a concentrated dose of all the bad news that I had heard about the oceans over the last few years, and it shocked me.

– There is a 6:1 ratio of plastic to plankton in the ocean. This cannot be good.

Consuming blue fin tuna is like barbecuing pandas.

Ocean plants produce half of the world’s oxygen.

In 40 years, seafood could be a thing of the past.

Ocean acidification is seriously affecting its ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere.

Sure, I already knew about plastic pollution, collapsing fish stocks, ocean acidification, dead zones and coastal habitat destruction. But like so many environmental messages, the drip-drip-drip of bad news hadn’t really hit me with the sense of urgency that I got at TED. Here were world-respected experts telling us that we need to take urgent action before the oceans are too damaged to recover.

Given that the oceans cover 70% of our planet, it suddenly made sense to me that if our oceans are in trouble, then so are we.

I know, I know. She sounds just like me. But she ends with this:

So on this Oceans Day, even if you have never spent a day at sea in your life, I beg you to do a blue deed for the day. Do something to help. Join an ocean conservation organisation. Make a donation. Post a tweet. Just do something. And then tell us about it at http://ecoheroes.me. Log a “water” deed and tell us what you did.

The ocean thanks you. And so do I.

I do too, particularly if you resolve to log a “water deed” every day of the year. Now that would start making a real difference. And if that’s what you are ready for, then this day, and this post, won’t have been a waste at all. And if you want to join a community of citizens who are taking action on the oceans, then Oceana is an excellent place to start.

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We Are All Gulf Residents

Just because you don’t live on the Gulf Coast or the Florida panhandle don’t assume you won’t be wading in some tar balls this summer at your favorite beach. The National Center For Atmospheric research has created an animation that shows how ocean currents may disperse the BP Blob. It ain’t pretty.

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A Painful Look Into The Oceans

If you want to see what is happening in the oceans, Nat Geo Photographer Brian Skerry does a great job of showing you in this TED Talk. The talk is part of the Mission Blue Voyage in response to Sylvia Earle’s plea last year, when she received a TED Award:

“I wish you would use all means at your disposal – films! expeditions! the web! more! – to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas, hope spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet.”

It’s hard to watch, but the oceans are in crisis and the truth is painful.

If you want to know how we got to this place, coral reef ecologist Jeremy Jackson explains.

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The BP Blowout Is A Picture Story

How this tragedy happened and what should be done will consume almost as much ink as oil spilled, but the most visceral and powerful way into this story is through pictures. I’ve been following ProPublica’s reporting, but I highly recommend their constantly updated slideshow. They have collected some spectacular images.


(Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images via ProPublica)

And if you want to get a bit Google Earth-y, check this page out, which allows you to track the spill by satellite, as well as compare its size to major US cities.

This picture, from the Boston Globe, is heartbreaking.


(Photo: AP via Boston Globe)

I hope these images don’t fade from anyone’s memory too quickly.

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