Living on Earth: A Deadly Spill For Cetaceans?
GELLERMAN: A new study by marine mammal scientists says the number of whales, dolphins, and porpoises killed by last year's BP oil disaster may have been greatly underestimated. The study points out the difficult job scientists face as they struggle to measure the full effect of the oil on the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystem. And as Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports, that job is even more complicated because of government secrecy that’s keeping some scientific data from public view.
YOUNG: It seems like a simple question: how many whales, porpoises, and dolphins died during BP’s oil spill? NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has a detailed online map showing when and where every carcass washed ashore or was found floating at sea during the spill. The total: 101 of those “strandings,” as they’re called. But as a new study points out, that number does not answer the question.
KRAUS: Using strandings as a proxy for estimating the damage from something like the oil spill is a fool’s errand. It simply will not work biologically.
YOUNG: That’s Scott Kraus, who leads research at the New England Aquarium and who co-authored the study in the journal Conservation Letters. The study looked at population estimates for Gulf species, and past research on how the number of strandings compares with actual mortality rates. As Kraus describes it, it’s a little like an episode of CSI with sea creatures, only most of the bodies are missing. Read the rest of the transcript here, or listen to the MP3 uploaded below.