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

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.


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