Previously unreleased emails and photos obtained by Greenpeace and shared with The Guardian newspaper show that US officials downplayed and kept secret information regarding the impact of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil disaster on the health of whale populations in the Gulf of Mexico.
The photographs show a dead sperm whale, take from an observation vessel belonging to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the emails document several instances where sperm whales, including juveniles, were spotted in the vacinity of the Deepwater disaster "covered in oil."
The documents were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by Greenpeace. NOAA officials refused to respond to newspaper's request for comment.
The Guardian's Suzanne Goldenberg reports:
The plight of wildlife caught up in the oil spill – especially endangered species such as sea turtles and sperm whales – has enormous financial implications for BP.
The oil company asked a judge in New Orleans this week to finalise its $7.8bn (£4.8bn) settlement for economic damages arising from the spill. But BP still faces claims from the federal government for environmental damages, and accounting for wildlife killed as a direct result of the spill – from dolphins to turtles to whales – will be critical to the final bill.
"In the settlement with BP, an endangered species or any animal killed by the spill matters," said Kert Davies, research director of Greenpeace.
That looming legal struggle was apparently already on the minds of officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) when crew aboard the research vessel, Pisces, spotted a dead sperm whale on the morning of 15 June 2010.
The discovery was the first confirmed sighting of a dead whale since the blow-out on the Deepwater Horizon that April.
The carcass, which was decomposed and had been fed on by sharks, was spotted about 77 miles south of the Deepwater Horizon oil site.
Meanwhile, NOAA observers on another vessel at the well site that same day spotted five whales, including a juvenile, covered in oil. "Observers noticed that the young whale was covered in oil sheen," the detection report notes. "It is very possible that these adults were covered in the same oil as the juvenile whale was covered in as the water quality was very poor with iridescent sheens all over the surface."
The detection report goes on to describe a large plume of smoke rising from the water, from the controlled burns used to stop the oil from reaching the shoreline. "Small brown globs of what appear to be oil and possibly oil dispersant infiltrate the water."
Goldenberg goes on to describe how crew members aboard the NOAA vessel were put under gag order and told not to tell even family members what they had observed.
Read the full story here.
# # #