Since the BP oil spill hit the Gulf, researchers from Loyola University in New Orleans, Tulane University, and the University of Southern Mississippi have been gathering shellfish to study the effects the oil may have on them. Shellfish are watched closely because they are such a large staple of the seafood industry, and a primary indicator of the ecosystem’s health. Weeks prior to capping the BP well scientists began to find specks of oil in blue crab larvae. The government said last week that three-quarters of the spilled oil has been removed or naturally dissipated from the water. But the crab larvae discovery was an ominous sign that crude had already infiltrated the Gulf’s vast food web – and could affect it for years to come. “It would suggest the oil has reached a position where it can start moving up the food chain instead of just hanging in the water,” said Bob Thomas, a biologist at Loyola University in New Orleans. “Something likely will eat those oiled larvae … and then that animal will be eaten by something bigger and so on. “Tiny creatures might take in such low amounts of oil that they could survive, Thomas said. But those at the top of the chain, such as dolphins and tuna, could get fatal “mega doses.” Biologist, Harriet Perry from the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Laboratory indicated that this is the first time they have discovered orange droplets of oil in crab larvae, something she has not seen in her 42 years of studying crabs. Tulane University researchers are investigating whether the droplets contain any of the chemical dispersants used in the Gulf, but so far according to biologist Caz Taylor they have not reached any conclusions. None of the researchers involved wanted to speculate on the size of the contamination in the Gulf, but did say that 40 percent of the areas known to contain blue crab have been affected. Unfortunately for us, we do not know how long this will take to clear the food chain, and how many more marine animals will perish because of it.
Photo: Blue Crab