They've found sperm whales there show significantly higher levels of heavy metals, including nickel and chromium, than sperm whales elsewhere. The team is studying Gulf sperm whales, by using a biopsy dart to collect a small skin and blubber sample from them. The cells are cultured on board the research vessel for further tests, and Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr says "...the signs suggest these may be some of the most polluted whales in the world."
While both nickel and chromium are found in crude oil, Kerr says there's no direct evidence to prove the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill was responsible for the heavy metal contamination. He says the spill was the most obvious potential source, but the Gulf has many potential sources of pollution, including the Mississippi River. Kerr is also concerned about the 1.8 million gallons of dispersants used to clean up the spill: "I think (using the dispersants) was very good politically, because the oil was 'out of sight, out of mind'. It was not a good use ecologically."
Kerr cited a study conducted on microscopic marine animals, that showed oil and the Corexit dispersant 9500A used separately had similar toxicity. However, when the two were mixed, toxicity increased up to 52-fold. He says the dispersant may actually make the oil more easily absorbed by Gulf wildlife: "When oil is on the surface, it's very bad for birds, turtles and the marshes, but what it's done is disperse it through the whole food chain." Sperm whales are a good test subject because they're an apex predator, and toxicity accumulates up the food chain.
The current study runs until at least 2014, gaining valuable details about Gulf pollution and the effect on wildlife.
Wouldn't it be great if the Japanese could gain as much information from their own so-called 'research' programmes without having to kill any whales!!! Riiiiiigghhtt...