Dead Fish Are Washing Up Everywhere . . . Is It Due to BP Oil Spill and Dispersants?

George Washington's picture

Washington’s
Blog

Dead fish are washing up everywhere.

For example, numerous dead fish washed ashore in Massachusetts a couple of days ago:

Dead fish had washed up in New Jersey yesterday.

Hundreds of thousands of dead fish washed up today in New Jersey, and even the birds wouldn't eat them:

(The second report in this video compilation - referring to a ripped fishing net - is actually from Virginia, some 210 miles
from the scene of the first report in New Jersey. The size of the
Virginia fish incident was much smaller than the one in New Jersey.)

And they have washed up in Mississippi as well.

There are also several reports of tar balls washing up on beaches prior to fish or crab kills.  See this and this. And see this.

Scientists attribute the dead fish to low oxygen levels in the Gulf of Mexico.

Indeed, scientists have been warning about this for months. For example, on May 16th, the New York Times wrote:

Scientists
are finding enormous oil plumes in the deep waters of the Gulf of
Mexico, including one as large as 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and 300
feet thick in spots. The discovery is fresh evidence that the leak from
the broken undersea well could be substantially worse than estimates
that the government and BP have given.

 

“There’s a shocking
amount of oil in the deep water, relative to what you see in the surface
water,” said Samantha Joye, a researcher at the University of Georgia
who is involved in one of the first scientific missions to gather
details about what is happening in the gulf. “There’s a tremendous
amount of oil in multiple layers, three or four or five layers deep in
the water column.”

 

The plumes
are depleting the oxygen dissolved in the gulf, worrying scientists,
who fear that the oxygen level could eventually fall so low as to kill
off much of the sea life near the plumes.

As I pointed out in June, the high methane content in the BP crude also depletes oxygen:

 

As CBS notes:

The oil emanating from the seafloor contains about 40 percent methane, compared with about 5 percent
found in typical oil deposits, said John Kessler, a Texas A&M
University oceanographer who is studying the impact of methane from
the spill.

As Kessler also points out:

This is the most vigorous methane eruption in modern human history.

A U.S. scientist says
that methane levels in the Gulf are "astonishingly high", that 1
million times the normal level of methane gas has been found in some
regions near the oil spill, high enough to create "dead zones" devoid
of life. Methane depletes oxygen, and the scientist noted:

At some locations, we saw depletions of up to 30 percent of oxygen based on its natural concentration in the waters.

Another scientist writes:

Researchers
studying the [plumes] have found concentrations of methane up to
10,000 times greater than normal and oxygen levels depleted by 40 percent below normal.

And see this, this and this.

This unprecedented release of methane into the ocean could kill all life within large swaths of the Gulf of Mexico.

In addition, millions of gallons of Corexit have been sprayed in the Gulf. Corexit contains oil, propylene glycol and a host of other chemicals. Propylene glycol depletes oxygen from water. See this and this.

Of course, separate and apart from its oxygen-depleting properties, Corexit is itself toxic
to fish. Given that even seagulls won't touch the fish that are
washing up today, the fish should be tested for Corexit poisoning.

Even if there are other causes for the fish deaths - such as unusually
warm water in the Gulf - the oil, methane and Corexit could very well
be contributing to the oxygen depletion or weakening the fish's ability
to deal with such factors.

For example, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection writes:

The
warmer water is the less dissolved oxygen it is able to hold. If the
fish schooled very tightly in shallows very close to shore for any
reason, they may have simply used up all the oxygen that was available
to them and died.”

What reason could there be for fish schooling close to shore?

The Advocate-Messenger points out:

Besides
potentially maintaining higher levels of toxicity, the oil trapped in
the water column is also suffocating the ocean, causing radical drops
in oxygen levels never before seen, [Monty Graham, a biological
oceanographer specializing in plankton at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab on
the coast of Alabama] said.

 

Following the oil and methane
spill, Graham’s measurements of oxygen levels in the waters where he
studies plankton dropped to two to three times lower than normal, to a
level so low most animals cannot tolerate it.

 

That suffocating
effect is why all kinds of sea animals have been showing up in greater
and greater numbers, closer and closer to shore — they can’t breathe in
their normal habitats anymore.

The Post Chronicle notes:

Some
local fishermen say they are seeing strange behavior by marine life --
mullets, crabs and other creatures which normally stay well under water
have been sighted congregating on the surface -- and they relate this
to the spill.

***

"It
looks like all of the sea life is trying to get out of the water," said
Alabama fisherman Stan Fournier. "In the 40 years I have been on these
waters I've never seen anything like this before."

AP notes:

Dolphins
and sharks are showing up in surprisingly shallow water just off the
Florida coast. Mullets, crabs, rays and small fish congregate by the
thousands off an Alabama pier. Birds covered in oil are crawling deep
into marshes, never to be seen again.

 

Marine scientists studying the effects of the BP disaster are seeing some strange — and troubling — phenomena.

 

Fish
and other wildlife are fleeing the oil out in the Gulf and clustering
in cleaner waters along the coast. But that is not the hopeful sign it
might appear to be, researchers say.

 

The animals' presence close
to shore means their usual habitat is badly polluted, and the crowding
could result in mass die-offs as fish run out of oxygen. Also, the
animals could easily get devoured by predators.

 

"A parallel
would be: Why are the wildlife running to the edge of a forest on fire?
There will be a lot of fish, sharks, turtles trying to get out of this
water they detect is not suitable," said Larry Crowder, a Duke
University marine biologist.

Note: If you are confused as to how the oil spill could affect the East Coast, please see this and this.
However, please note that there is no proof as of this writing that
oil, methane or Corexit has made it as far North as New Jersey, let
alone
Massachusetts, although - as Dr. Sanjay Gupta points out - their byproducts may spread further. Scientists need to test the fish and ocean water to find out one way or the other.