The Gulf Oil Spill 6

r1973374837I guess it’s time for me  to weigh in on the tragic Gulf oil spill.  Because of my involvement in the Valdez spill in Alaska (20+ years ago) and my book “Sea Otter Rescue” I’ve gotten dozens of emails from friends and readers asking about the mess in the south.  Below are some of the questions I’ve received and my answers, which some of you may not like, but I have to tell you the truth based on my experience.

The Gulf spill is the biggest environmental disaster in my life time.  It is going to cause unprecedented damage to animals and the Gulf ecosystem for decades.

Are you going to the Gulf to help with the cleanup?  No.  I was sent Valdez, Alaska because of  my expertise with sea otters.  There are no sea otters in the Gulf of Mexico.  The animals that will be affected in the Gulf are birds, fish, dolphins, whales, and mammals that live on the shores.  I’ve worked with all of these animals, but there are people much better qualified than I am to deal with these species.

How can we clean up the oil?  The sad truth is that there is no effective way to clean up an oil spill of this magnitude.  As soon as the rig blew up and the oil started spewing into the Gulf it was too late (just as it was too late when the Exxon Valdez smashed into Bligh reef in Alaska).  This is not to say that we shouldn’t try to do something, but I have to honest here, there isn’t much we can do.  Most of the oil is suspended and flowing below the surface, which means we can’t get to it.

What about the birds?  Our track record with saving and rehabilitating oil infected birds is dismal.  Again, I’m not saying we shouldn’t try, but the mortality rate for oiled birds is probably somewhere around 90%.  Some scientists question the effort and expense of wildlife rehabilitation.  They wonder if the millions and millions of dollars spent on saving a handful of animals would be better spent on restoring the ecosystem.  It’s a valid question, which I don’t have an answer to.

What about the whales and dolphins?   Hopefully, marine mammals will be able to avoid the oil, but if they can’t, and they are injured, and we can capture them (a lot of if’s) we might be able to help them.

What about the fish, clams, oysters, crabs?  There is nothing we can do to save them.  Sorry.

How do we avoid this type of oil spill in the future?  This is the 64 billion dollar question.  We are an oil dependent nation, which means if you have driven in a car, used a cell phone, DS player, or own anything made of plastic… You are an oil consumer.  I’m not letting British Petroleum (or Exxon in Alaska) off the hook, but to find the real culprits all you have to do is to look in a mirror.  We need to aggressively pursue alternative energy resources.  We need to walk.  We need to ride bikes.  We need bike paths.  We need mass transit.  We need to car pool.  We need to be willing to spend a lot of money, out of our own pockets, to get out of this mess we’ve created by our dependence on oil.

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6 thoughts on “The Gulf Oil Spill

  • Kim

    I was wondering when you were going to comment on the oil spill. This tragedy will hopefully spark a change in all of us. Thank you for your honesty. I just re-read Sea Otter rescue with my girls. It really does bring home the magnitude of what we as humans do to animals, both the good and bad.They were here first. It must be so hard for you to watch this tragic event play out again.

  • roland Post author

    You are right, Kim… It is one of those things that there is nothing good about. Perhaps something will be learned by the tragedy. I was talking to a FOX reporter a couple of days ago. He asked if anything good had come out of the Valdez spill. The only good things I could think of were the fact that we had learned a lot about Sea Otters and that we had put all of the rescue equipment on barges so that we could react faster to the next oil spill up there, which their will be if we don’t use double-hauled super tankers.

  • Martha Halford

    We are here in Florida on vacation and the tar balls washed ashore yesterday. One of the guys was bringing in a kayak and noticed his skin was oily and then spotted the tar balls rolling in. Beach was closed but people are still swimming in it. Health Dept. put up a sign that is being ignored by many. We spent the day at the pool. Hazmat team of people are out there now picking up samples. Sad day for the gulf coast area and everyone who has planned to spend some relaxing time with family.

  • roland Post author

    What a shame, Martha. Unfortunately, there will be a lot of stories like yours for the next 10 years. You don’t want that goo on your skin. Stay out of the water.

  • Anne Allen

    We read Sea Otter Rescue many years ago when my son was young and I just checked it out for my 10 year old daughter. Thank you for this, and ALL your books! Your honesty and insights are deeply appreciated. My dtr. is a girl scout and wants to do her next project on how we can be less dependent on oil based products. I agree that all the whining of the American people (self included) needs to be turned inward. We will undoubtedly be unhappy when the price of oil rises again and if the other products we use aren’t as readily available. But we don’t stop to think about where these things come from and why we are a part of the problem.

    I’m thinking of becoming Amish.