The Blog Aquatic

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The Blog Aquatic

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

About Alexis Baldera

Alexis is a Conservation Biologist for the Gulf Restoration program in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she tracks research related to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. She loves all things ocean, wetland and oyster. When not thinking about one of these things, she is probably dreaming of her future ranch or taking names on the sand volleyball court.

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Fishermen and Scientists Work Together to Track Sick Fish

Posted On July 21, 2014 by

University of South Florida Professor Steven Murawski began studying diseases in fin fishes after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill when Gulf of Mexico fishermen began reporting a surge in fish with visible lesions. Credit: C-Image. Caption from phys.org

Fishermen are on the water every day, which means they are often the first to notice when something changes. After the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, we heard reports from fishermen that they were catching more fish with lesions than they had ever seen before. Immediately after hearing these reports, Dr. Jim Cowan at LSU began investigating the frequency, location and cause of the reported lesions. Many other scientists have collected data on this same issue, and last week a group from the University of South Florida published the first round of results in a scientific journal.

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800,000 and Counting: The Soaring Deepwater Horizon Bird Death Count

Posted On May 22, 2014 by


According to a new study, scientists estimate that between 600,000 and 800,000 coastal seabirds died because of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, a number far greater than any previous estimate. Understanding the ripple effect of 800,000 coastal birds dying in the Gulf of Mexico is critical to the recovery of this special place. These findings come from a study to be released this summer in Marine Ecology Progress Series, which was recently reported in the New York Times.

This new estimate for bird deaths in the Gulf is unprecedented for an oil disaster. For context, the estimate of dead birds following the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill was around 300,000.

What are the ecosystem effects of 800,000 birds dying?

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Interview with Marine Mammal Researcher Dr. Ruth H. Carmichael on the Stranding of Dolphins, Manatees and Whales

Posted On April 15, 2014 by

This blog is part of a series of interviews with scientists who are championing marine research in the Gulf of Mexico.

We know there was a very significant increase in the number of marine mammal strandings observed following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Dr. Ruth H. Carmichael talks to Ocean Conservancy about her work to respond to strandings when they occur, collect data to better understand these strandings and put together public outreach programs to prevent them in the future.

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Potential Threats from BP Oil to Bluefin and Yellowfin Tuna, Swordfish and Amberjack

Posted On April 8, 2014 by

© Cheryl Gerber

A new study published last month reveals how the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster likely caused life-threatening heart deformities and irregular function in the fish embryos of yellowfin tuna, bluefin tuna, amberjack and swordfish.

If you’re thinking that this sounds like another study we reported on last month, then you’re right. A number of different studies have been conducted on fish hearts, and each of them is an important piece of the puzzle that scientists are assembling to understand the impacts of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

This latest study conducted by Dr. John Incardona and others clarifies how the oil from the BP oil disaster affects the embryos of large predatory fish living in the open ocean (or pelagic zone) of the Gulf of Mexico. Previous studies have determined that crude oil can be toxic or have delayed fatal effects on fish living in cold Arctic waters, such as pink salmon, or in warm freshwaters, such as zebrafish. We’ve also recently learned that Gulf killifish living in oiled areas of coastal Louisiana are suffering from deformed hearts and reduced chances of survival; another study helped us better understood the mechanism by which crude oil affects tuna hearts. Collectively, this research allowed scientists to make assumptions about how oil might affect fish living in the warm offshore waters of the Gulf.

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Interview: The Unfolding Story of BP Disaster’s Impact on Gulf Shrimp

Posted On March 13, 2014 by

Dr. Kim de Mutsert deploys a shrimp trawl to collect samples. [Photo: B. Bachman]

(This blog is part of a series of interviews with scientists who are championing marine research in the Gulf of Mexico.)

Shrimp are not just an integral part of the Gulf Coast’s culture and cuisine, but they are also a pillar of its economy. The impacts of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster to this iconic animal are a great concern. Drs. Kim de Mutsert and Joris L. van der Ham of George Mason University study the oil’s effects on white and brown shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico. De Mutsert specializes in applied fish ecology, estuarine ecology and ecosystem modeling, including the effects of coastal restoration scenarios on fish, shrimp and oysters in Louisiana. Van der Ham, formerly a postdoctoral researcher at Louisiana State University, is an invertebrate zoologist who has investigated the effects of the BP disaster on inshore shrimp populations. We interviewed them about their research and what more needs to be done.

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Interview: Dr. Paul Montagna on Deep-sea Impacts of the BP Oil Disaster

Posted On February 11, 2014 by

Dr. Paul Montagna

(This blog is part of a series of interviews with scientists who are championing marine research in the Gulf of Mexico.)

Most images related to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster are of oil floating on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico or washing up on its shores, but what has happened in the deep-sea environment? Dr. Paul Montagna of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi explores that question. In a recent publication in PLOS ONE, he estimated the size of the deep-sea “footprint” left behind by the BP Deepwater Horizon Macondo well blowout. He has documented severe impacts to bottom-dwelling animals over a 9-square-mile area (equivalent to 4,356 football fields) and moderate impacts within another 57 square miles, an area twice the size of Manhattan.

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Interview: Dr. Eric Hoffmayer on Tracking Whale Sharks in the Gulf of Mexico

Posted On January 30, 2014 by

Dr. Hoffmayer and a whale shark in the Gulf of Mexico. [Photo: Jim Franks]

(This blog is part of a series of interviews with scientists who are championing marine research in the Gulf of Mexico.)

A preeminent whale shark expert and ecophysiologist, Dr. Eric R. Hoffmayer is a research fishery biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Mississippi Laboratories. His interest in coastal shark species ranges from their reproduction and life history to their specific abundance, distribution and feeding ecology in nursery grounds. He has pursued a particular interest in the Gulf of Mexico’s whale sharks, the largest fish in the ocean, compiling information on their basic biology, habitat use and movement patterns.

Ocean Conservancy:  How much is known generally about the whale sharks found in the Gulf of Mexico? What is the size of the population?

Dr. Hoffmayer:  Ironically, even though whale sharks are the largest fish in the ocean, we still know so little about them, specifically here in the Gulf of Mexico. We know from our research efforts, as well as from research efforts of our colleagues in the southern Gulf, that whale sharks are relatively common in the Gulf. Unfortunately, due to their highly migratory nature and preference for offshore habitats, we still do not have a good population estimate for this region. However, colleagues working in the southern Gulf have estimated that between 500 and 900 individuals occur off the Yucatan Peninsula. In the northern Gulf, whale sharks occur along the continental shelf edge from Brownsville, Texas, to the Florida Keys and commonly occur off the mouth of the Mississippi River.

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