Invisible Threat: Bottle-nosed Dolphin
While bobbing in the ocean recently I heard a young boy scream “TIBURON!”
I know some Spanish, but it was the frantic tone in his voice that helped me quickly translate a word that I normally associate with a local golf course or a Hyundai coup. In this case – Tiburon meant “SHARK!”
Neck deep in the Gulf of Mexico, I turned away from the beach and watched a pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphin (Tursiops truncates) arc through the water in graceful undulations. I looked down around my feet and watched, just in case, fully prepared to launch myself from the water if anything shark-like stirred beneath me. It didn’t. And there are worse things than sharks in the gulf.
Throughout the summer of 2010, an estimated 5 million barrels of oil streamed from the bottom of the ocean and spread north along the Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida coast, impacting hundreds of millions of sea creatures including fish, shellfish, sea turtles, birds, manatees and dolphins. Thousands of injured or dead animals were collected as the oil flowed unabated day after day in the largest oil spill in U.S. history. When the leak was plugged and the oil stopped flowing, the threat to wildlife and the overall health of the Gulf of Mexico continued even if the media coverage trickled to a stop.
Apparently the Gulf dodged an unprecedented environmental disaster? According to a government report, as of August 4th when the Deepwater Horizon wellhead was capped, of the estimated 120 million gallons, 17% of the oil was captured, 8% was burned, 8% was dispersed with chemicals, 26% remained onshore and 41% evaporated, dissolved or dispersed naturally. Images of vast oil slicks have been replaced by news of oil-devouring microbes that have perpetually kept natural oil seeps in the Gulf from blackening the waters. While many are quick to declare victory after an agonizing four months of the disaster, I can’t help but be a cynic. I worry that the health of the gulf will continue to be impacted for years to come.
I watch the dolphins swim away and eventually disappear. I can’t see them but I know they’re still there.