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June 18, 2010

The End of Sperm Whales?

ENVIRONMENT - A dead sperm whale has been found floating a couple of km south of the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Environmentalists are now warning this could be the first of many sperm whales killed by the toxic crude oil.

The endangered species of sperm whales, measuring up to 20.5 meters (67 ft) long are found the world over... but their mating grounds around the equator and in particular in the Gulf of Mexico are some of the most heavily used waters when it comes to fishing boats (and fishing nets), cruise liners and cargo ships which pose a real threat to the often curious whales. Since April 20th their mating grounds is now one of the heavily polluted regions in the world, the home of the world's biggest oil spill...

Which is still continuing to pour forth and yet to be capped.

Commercial hunting of sperm whales (and their relative the pygmy sperm whale which measures 3.5 meters longs) for their oil and blubber began in the 1700s. By 1800 there was an estimated 1.1 million sperm whales left. By 1900 they had been hunted down to approx. 700,000. By 2000 it was estimated less then 400,000 remain in the wild. (Japanese whalers continue to hunt sperm whales routinely.)

The toxic BP Oil Spill covers an area of over 30,000 square km (the size of South Carolina) and curious sperm whales will not know enough to avoid the area. Crude oil can easily clog up a whale's blowhole, causing the whale to eventually die from suffocation.

Breathing in or ingesting crude oil can also cause to pneumonia, damage to the brain, liver and other organs; unconsciousness and death. (And oil dispersants are even more toxic and deadly.) Fish and other creatures contaminated by the oil, even if they survive the toxic stew, are likely to have reduce fertility resulting in little or no offspring.

In the early 1990s the United States Marine Mammal Commission warned a large oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico would kill marine mammals and "such effects might result in the complete loss of a regional population and require three or more generations to recover."

This is not the beginning of the end for sperm whales, but we could see a sizable reduction in species population, down to its lowest level ever. Thankfully the Gulf of Mexico is not their only breeding grounds as they also mate in shallow coastal waters off the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Africa and Indonesia.

The environmental damages of the BP Oil Spill will no doubt last for generations.

1 comment:

  1. Three sperm whales killed by oil spill - Could threaten Gulf of Mexico’s entire population


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