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Animals in Danger from the Deepwater Disaster

Saturday 1 May 2010

As the oil begins to wash ashore on Louisiana’s beaches the cost to the human population will be enormous. On the local wildlife the disaster may have an incalculable effect. Here are just some of the species in danger from the oil that continues to flow from the Deepwater Horizon.

The Manatee
These large herbivorous marine mammals – about as friendly as marine animals come (towards humans that is) can grow up to four meters in length. Every year several hundred manatees travel towards the waters off the coast of Louisiana after spending their winter in Florida. Once they get to these waters they graze on the vast beds of sea grass in the area. Already critically endangered the oil from the rig may be what finally ends this unique community.

The Northern Gannet
 This is a critical time of year for many species of songbirds and shorebirds who are going through their primary migratory period. This area is called the Mississipi Flyway and runs right through the area affected by the slick. For other species of birds this is when they nest and lay their eggs. The very first animal casualty to have been rescued was a Northern Gannet. Recovered offshore on April 30, it was alive and has been taken to a local emergency rehabilitation center. As Northern Gannets dive into the sea to catch fish it is expected that many thousands of this species may die.

Kemp’s Ridley
The Gulf of Mexico is home to five out of seven of the world’s sea turtles, where they live, breed and migrate. By far the most endangered is the Kemp’s Ridley. One of its two main routes of Migration is south of Mississippi. And guess when they start arriving back in the Gulf to take advantage of its warm waters? Yes, you guess it – May.

The Brown Pelican
The Brown Pelican is the avian symbol of Louisiana. Although it is the smallest of the pelican species (eight in total) it is still an impressively sized bird. It has a wingspan of up to eight feet and can weigh up to twelve pounds. It is nesting season for the Brown Pelican and thousands of pairs of birds are in the process of mating and nesting at the moment. Unfortunately their nesting site is the Breton National Wildlife Refuge which is directly threatened by the slick. If the oil gets ashore then it is the end of this year’s nesting season, with the chick populations likely to be wiped out.

The Right Whale
The Northern Atlantic right whale has only a population of around four hundred on planet earth – period. They were depleted by commercial whaling and the coastal waters off Florida and Georgia are the only calving areas known for this species. It is feared that these wonderful animals may dive deep for food and then hit the slick as they come up. Although no sightings have been made of the right whale around the slick, this is not the case for the sperm whale. It is not only the oil that threatens these enormous mammals, but the toxins that it is already releasing in to the air.

The Whale Shark
The whale shark is the largest fish in the world and can reach over eleven meters in length. They are mostly solitary creatures and spend the larger proportion of the year on their own. However at this time of year onwards through summer around a hundred of them get together in the Gulf of Mexico. Right next to the Louisiana/Mississippi state line. This beautifully marked fish has been around for sixty million years – and it was thought for a long time that they fed exclusively on plankton. However, they have been seen feeding on small fish too.

The Reddish Egret
Previously a victim of the plume trade this gorgeous member of the heron family’s luck has just taken a turn for the worse. It is a coastal bird and it has no alternative feeding grounds in the Louisiana area, let alone anywhere else to nest. Out of the two thousand nesting pairs in the US, most are in Texas and are already classified as threatened. What the encroaching oil slick might do to their numbers is an unsettling thought.

The Blue Crab
The blue crab is a staple of the local seafood industry and lives in the coastal marshes. Although it is not classified as endangered in any way it is vital to the local ecosystems in the coastal marshes of Louisiana. It eats plans and animals – and is also something of a cannibal. Apart from us its natural predators makes for quite a list, from sting rays to trout, eels and sharks.


The season for inshore shrimp begins in the middle of May while the brown shrimp pictured are in their post larval and juvenile stage at the current moment in time. The State of Louisiana has allowed a special shrimp season so that the local fishermen and women can bring in as great a quantity of the maturing shrimp as possible before the almost inevitable major environmental disaster.

The Menhaden
This foraging fish spawns all year round and is fertile to say the very least. The eggs are hatched in the ocean and the larvae drift in to sheltered estuaries thanks to the natural currents of the ocean. Here they spend a year before they head out to the ocean again – but that may not be the case this year. While a mature female can produce almost four hundred thousand eggs these numerous fish have a number of uses – from animal feed to cosmetics. Although they spawn all year – this is their major period for reproduction. (Below is a picture of the species killed through severe hypoxia-near anoxia in 2003 but we may be seeing a lot of this on the news very soon.

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