Dirty Words

On the wildlife front things are looking pretty okay for the time being. The IBRRC crew has managed to oversee the set up of four Oiled Bird Rescue Centers now. The original one in Fort Jackson, Louisiana, one in Theodore, Alabama, another in Pensacola, Florida, and a new one since my last post in Gulfport, Mississippi. Between them all they’ve only seen five birds come in. The original two (the northern gannet and brown pelican) have passed their final vet checks and are cleared for release. That is slated to take place on Monday, May 10, at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge on the Atlantic coast northeast of Vero Beach, Florida. This Refuge is well outside of the current oil trajectory estimates and has large populations of both northern gannets and brown pelicans.

The turtle and marine mammal folks have several facilities in the works and are very close to having a comprehensive plan in place for oiled manatees. Necropsies (animal autopsies) are being performed on the more than 70 dead turtles that have been found along the Gulf Coast over the past week. It’s still up in the air as to whether or not they were oil toxicity victims or died from other causes. The turtle folks have a lot of work ahead of them before they’ll have a definitive answer. There are five species of sea turtle in the Gulf of Mexico and they are at the height of their breeding season. Keeping oil away from their known nesting grounds will be crucial to turtle protection efforts. The 28 species of marine mammals known to inhabit the Gulf of Mexico include 19 different types of whales, 9 species dolphin, and the West Indian Manatee. I’ve included a species list at the end of this post.

NOAA overflights and satellite monitoring continue every day adding to the information used to put the out predicted trajectory maps that are invaluable to those of us on the ground. Thankfully we’re not just grasping at straws, trying to wrap our brains around what’s happening out there and where we need to concentrate our efforts. The folks at NOAA have been getting us updated information on the spreading oil slick twice every day.

I’m sure many of you are aware that the coffer damn structure that was specially constructed to cap the main leak site was a no go. Ice-like methane hydrate crystals stopped up the top of the dome and also clung to the sides making the structure buoyant. Not what they were aiming to attain. It is now sitting a few hundred feet from the leak site while BP spins their wheels about what their next plan will be. Back to the drawing board (in my best Marvin the Martian voice).

One plan that was mentioned is something called a “junk shot.” From what I could gather based on the cryptic explanation given by Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer, they’re going to get a bunch of junk into the well somehow to clog it up “like a toilet” he said. Being a scientist, I craved a more thorough definition of this maneuver, so naturally I typed “junk shot” into a major internet search engine. The third hit was a link to the Urban Dictionary and my curiosity could not be stifled. May I disclaim that the contents of the Urban Dictionary definition of “junk shot” are not rated PG-13. After a much needed good chuckle I moved on. By most accounts, a “junk shot” is the act of injecting a large amount of highly pressurized, ground up debris (tires, golf balls, shovels, Tonka trucks, wicker baskets, what-have-you) into the blowout preventer of a well in hopes that it will clog from the inside. Kind of like a toilet, but in reverse, so not really like a toilet at all…

In long-term fix news, worker started drilling an emergency relief well on Sunday, May 2. This new well is supposed to intersect and isolate the well that is currently leaking. BP told reporters that this “relief well” is projected to take several months to complete.

A Few Stats:

To date more than 8,500 responders are working on the disaster, over 190,000 feet of boom have been placed, another 1.3 million feet have been staged, approximately 2.1 million gallons of oil and water mix (about 10% crude) have been recovered, and 290,000 gallons of dispersant have been applied to the spilled oil. For an adjustable (because no one knows how much is really escaping) estimate of the amount of oil that may or may not be on the loose in the Gulf, check out PBS’s widget featuring a gas pump-like meter rolling through numbers at a nauseating rate. By conservative leakage per day estimates we’re up to four million gallons now. I would have pasted the code into this post so the actual widget appeared here but there was some incompatibility problem with the code they used to create it and the code used by my blog carrier. Oh well. A link will get the point across just as well.

Gulf Coast Sea Turtle and Marine Mammal Species List

Sea Turtles:

Green Sea Turtle – Chelonia mydas (endangered)

Hawksbill Sea Turtle –  Eretmochelys imbricate (threatened)

Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle –  Lepidochelys kempii (endangered)

Leatherback Sea Turtle –  Dermochelys coriacea (endangered)

Loggerhead Sea Turtle –  Caretta caretta (threatened)


Blainville’s Beaked Whale – Mesoplodon densirostris

Blue Whale – Balaenoptera musculus (endangered)

Bryde’s Whale – Balaenoptera edeni

Cuvier’s Beaked Whale – Ziphius cavirostris

Dwarf Sperm Whale – Kogia simus

False Killer Whale – Pseudorca crassidens

Fin Whale – Balaenoptera physalus (endangered)

Gervais’ Beaked Whale – Mesoplodon europaeus

Humpback Whale – Megaptera novaeangliae

Killer Whale – Orcinus orca

Melon-headed Whale – Peponocephala electra

Minke Whale – Balaenoptera acutorostrata

Northern Right Whale – Eubalaena glacialis

Pygmy Killer Whale – Feresa attenuata

Pygmy Sperm Whale – Kogia breviceps

Sei Whale – Balaenoptera borealis (endangered)

Short-finned Pilot Whale – Globicephala macrorhynchus

Sowerby’s Beaked Whale – Mesoplodon bidens

Sperm Whale – Physeter macrocephalus (endangered)


Atlantic Spotted Dolphin – Stenella frontalis

Bottlenose Dolphin – Tursiops truncatus

Clymene Dolphin – Stenella clymene

Fraser’s Dolphin – Lagenodelphis hosei

Pantropical Spotted Dolphin – Stenella attenuata

Risso’s Dolphin – Grampus griseus

Rough-toothed Dolphin – Steno bredanensis

Spinner Dolphin (Long-snouted) – Stenella longirostris

Striped Dolphin – Stenella coeruleoalba

Manatee – last but not least:

West Indian Manatee – Trichechus manatus (endangered)


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