BP Oil Spill Update: Deformed, Diseased and Contaminated Fish Turning up in Gulf of Mexico

Measurable amounts of napthalene, a compound in crude oil, has been found in some food fish.

The 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and caused billions of dollars in damage. According to an article by the Associated Press, fish captured in the Gulf now, two years later, are bearing hallmark signs of oil contamination — open sores and black streaks on their bodies, and measurable amounts on napthalene, a compound that comes from crude oil. Because there is a lack of data on oil-related fish illnesses in the Gulf before the spill, there currently is no definitive research on fish exposure to oil as a result of the BP oil spill. But the fish that the scientists and fisherman are capturing are not normal.

Scientists have examined the bile of Gulf fish such as red snapper, yellow-edge grouper and other species, and they were able to measure 125 parts per million of napthalene in the systems of some fish. The scientists say that these numbers are usually associated with fish captured in polluted urban bodies of water, not the open ocean. The report also cites another study of sick fish captured in shallow and deep waters of the Gulf. Approximately 4,000 fish were captured for the study, in which the scientists found 3 percent of the fish with gashes, ulcers and parasites that are symptomatic of environmental contamination. The number of sick fish was amplified as they moved away from the waters off Florida and closer to the waters off Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, closer to where the oil spill occurred.

“Some of the things I’ve seen over the past year or so I’ve never seen before,” said Will Patterson, a marine biologist at the University of South Alabama and Dauphin Island Sea Lab. “Things like fin rot, large open sores on fish. Those were some of the more disturbing types of things we saw..”

These findings don’t produce any definitive evidence that these problems are related to the BP oil spill, but because of the number of pipelines, oil wells and natural oil seepages in the Gulf, there is research that shows sea turtles, deep-water corals, seaweed beds, in-shore baitfish, dolphins and other Gulf-dwelling species have been adversely affected by the spill. “There is a lot of circumstantial evidence that something is still awry,” Christopher D’Elia, the dean of LSU’s School of the Coast and Environment. “On the whole, it is not as much environmental damage as originally projected, [but that] doesn’t mean there is none,” he said.

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