Whale found dead in Gulf of Mexico18 June, 2010 –
A DEAD sperm whale has been found floating 77 miles south of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is currently in the process of conducting thorough testing to determine the circumstances surrounding the mammals death, as well as collecting information about its life.
This is the first dead whale reported since BPs rig exploded on April 20. It was not found in oiled waters, but it is not known where it died. It was discovered on Tuesday (June 15).
As soon as the whale was sighted by the NOAA ship Pisces, Field Party Chief Paul Felts called the marine mammal hotline to report the finding to the Wildlife Branch of the Unified Command and NOAAs marine mammal experts.
Based on the estimated size of the whale, scientists believe it is a sub-adult. Its condition suggests it may have been dead for between several days to more than a week. Although it was not found in oiled water, NOAA marine mammal experts are using hindcasting analysis to look into the location from which the whale carcass may have drifted.
While it is impossible to confirm whether exposure to oil was the cause of death, NOAA is reviewing whether factors such as ship strikes and entanglement can be eliminated. Samples collected from this carcass will be stored under proper protocols and handed off when the Pisces comes to port on July 2, or possibly if another boat is sent to meet the Pisces. Full analysis of the samples will take several weeks.
In accordance with the Wildlife Branch protocols, the NOAA field crew have taken photographs of the approximately 25-foot whale, collected skin swab for oil analysis, collected blubber and skin samples for analysis, and measured its height in the water.
Although the whale is very decomposed, the photographs and samples will help scientists better understand how long it has been dead. The blubber and skin samples will be used for genetic analysis and to determine the sex of the animal. Measurements of the whale floating in the water will be used to determine how far and how fast it might have floated from where it died.
The carcass has been marked so that aerial reconnaissance teams will be able to identify the individual and will not report it as a new mortality.
NOAA and the Unified Command Wildlife Branch have had numerous reports of sperm whales seen swimming in the oil, but this is the first confirmed report of a dead whale since the BP oil spill began. NOAA remains concerned about sperm whales, which are the only endangered resident cetaceans in the upper Gulf of Mexico. Sperm whales spend most of their time in the upper Gulf offshore area, live at depth in areas where subsurface dispersants and oil are present, and feed on deepwater squid, which may also be impacted by the oil and dispersants.
The NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter sailed yesterday for a multi-week cruise to do photo identification, assessments, tagging, biopsies, and prey-density studies for sperm whales and Brydes whales.
Near-shore and offshore response efforts are continuing, and include investigations to determine cause of death or illness for dolphins that have stranded and aerial surveys for cetaceans throughout the area.
The information gained from these efforts will help assess the impacts of this event on cetaceans in the Gulf of Mexico.