Whales in the Gulf

Several people have asked me whether there are significant numbers of whales in the Gulf of Mexico and how they are being affected by the Deepwater/BP blowout. The whales I know best are the ones who spend the summer off the coast of New England. Right whale mothers and calves winter off the coast of Florida and could be affected later this year if oil wraps around and starts making its way up the east coast of Florida. Occasionally a right whale wanders into the Gulf. Right whales are highly endangered. There are only about 400 remaining, and the death or sickness of even one can affect the long term survival of this species.

Many humpbacks winter off the coast of Hispaniola (Haiti/Dominican Republic). I do not know whether they ever wander into the Gulf, but right now they are in northern waters.

Many of us have seen pictures of dolphins swimming through oil and dispersant soaked water in the Gulf, but what I did not know is that there is a Gulf resident population of sperm whales that feed in the Mississippi delta region. One of those whales has now been found dead, as detailed in a current New York Times article.

So the oil continues to spread, and the death toll is mounting, and we have barely begun to see how this tragedy is changing the structure of life in Gulf-area ecosystems.

Is our oil-driven life really worth this? Are we sure that this blowout was the exception, and not a harbinger of things to come as we drill in ever more challenging areas for a resource that is becoming harder and harder to access? There are signs, including the President’s White House address, that the message is sinking in. The oil era is coming to an end, and the sooner the better. Surely this spreading death is not the legacy we want to leave to future generations of humans, whales, and all the other spectacular life forms that inhabit this good Earth.

All of us can start to think about how we can live without oil. All of us have to.

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