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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Of Whale Sharks And Oilmen

Grrlscientist has a worthwhile post at on Whale Sharks and how they're faring as BP tries its damnedest to replace the Gulf of Mexico's seawater with crude oil.

In addition to the near-miraculous (100 Whale Sharks feeding en masse in what might be a relatively -- and our standards are pretty low at this point -- untainted area) and the heart-wrenching (three of them swimming right in the thick of the spill), there's this thought-provoking detail from a piece by Ben Raines of the Press-Register:
"Our worst fears are realized. They are not avoiding the spill area," said Eric Hoffmayer, the University of Southern Mississippi scientist who found the large aggregation last week. "Those animals are going to succumb. Taking mouthfuls of oil is not good. It is not the toxicity that will kill them. It's that oil is going to be sticking to their gills and everything else."

Whale sharks, the largest fish on earth, feed by filtering plankton and tiny fish from the water through sieve-like mechanisms in their mouths.

"Based on all the information I'm getting, they are doing the normal things regardless of the oil. The idea that sharks have these evolved senses that will protect them -- well, they haven't evolved to detect oil," Hoffmayer said.
Now, I got inadvertently doused with gasoline pretty good by an attendant at a Stuckey's gas station outside Denver, Colorado once. And given that unpleasant episode, I'd never really contemplated the notion that any creature could be anything but acutely aware of being immersed in something like crude oil or its byproducts. But that could be the case here.

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