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Potentially toxic fate of gray whales in Beaufort and Chukchi seas

BY A FORMER EMPLOYEE OF SHELL OIL USA

John,

I don’t have time to spend writing much of an article for you on Alaska and Shell’s drilling plans, but I will make an observation that I am sure the WWF has considered, but then maybe not.

California gray whales migrate to the Beaufort and Chukchi seas every summer to feed. These areas are their summer feeding grounds. Literally. Gray whales are interesting because unlike other baleen whales the gray whales are bottom feeders. They scoop up large amounts of mud off the ocean bottom and then strain it through their baleen plates for shrimp, crustaceans, small fish, etc.

Any large oil spill in the Arctic would most probably end up producing a large amount of oil that settled to the ocean bottom in the form of tar balls, etc. We have seen this the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere.

So, the gray whales would ingest these ‘tar balls’ in the process of feeding. In fact, they could ingest a large amount of ‘tar’ in the feeding process. This stuff is toxic, it is hydrocarbons, and I have little doubt large amounts ingested by a whale would be fatal. How much they could ingest is likely unknown.

So, it is reasonable to conclude that a large oil spill in the Arctic Ocean could decimate the California gray whale population. If the spill were extensive enough it might even drive the species to the brink of extinction.

Has anyone thought of this?  Is this considered in the government’s environmental impact statement? I have seen no mention of this.

I don’t see Shell running around the Arctic with specialized ships that don’t exist trying to vacuum up trillions of tar balls, etc., that could cover tens, hundreds, or even thousands of square miles (kilometers) of ocean bottom. They don’t have the money or technology to do that. They will opt for paying a large fine that is miniscule in comparison to clean-up costs.

So, an oil spill in the Arctic is going to have some very serious consequences that probably cannot be reversed. Is every body comfortable with that fact? Because there will be a large spill in the Arctic, soon or later.

Link to 220 page report on gray whale and walrus feeding habits in the Chukchi Sea by the US Geological Survey and prepared for MMS

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