Local experts weigh in on oil slick impact on wildlife

April 28, 2010 6:58:58 PM PDT
At least one prominent local expert is headed to the Gulf Coast to try to help manage the impact of the spill and the possible burning on marine mammals and wildlife in the region.

"Hopefully the turtles and the whales are going to stay away," said Michael Ziccardi, director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at UC Davis. He says burning the oil in the Gulf Coast may not seem like a great choice, but it could be the best one, at this point.

"At the surface, that's where the mammals are breathing, that's where the sea birds are floating, that's where the sea turtles are feeding," he said. "So if we can get that oil off the surface, either through burning or dispersing the oil, it's going to be the lesser of two evils."

Ziccardi leaves for Louisiana Wednesday night, called in by the federal government to help develop an action plan for the sea turtles and marine mammals in the path of the massive oil slick that is now about 20 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi River.

"To date, the only reports we have are a few whales transiting in and around the oil spill site," he said.

So far in the Gulf, there has not been anything like the thousands of birds injured and killed after the Cosco Busan spill in 2007. But it may only be a matter of time, as the oil heads toward land.

"This is a disaster that's beyond any scope I've ever seen," said San Francisco Oceanic Society naturalist Stan Minasian, who believes even if the oil does not reach land, the damage could be catastrophic. "Most of the damage is going to be done on the bottle-nosed dolphins and what are called the pan-tropical spotted dolphins. There are also sperm whales and 16 other species of animals that swim through that area and they're all going to be impacted by this."

As for the burning, even if it is done in a remote area, Minasian worries many animals will not be able to escape in time.


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