Gulf Seafood Deformities Alarm Scientists
Gulf Seafood Deformities Alarm Scientists
By Dahr Jamail / aljazeera.com

New Orleans, LA - "The fishermen have never seen anything like this," Dr Jim Cowan told Al Jazeera. "And in my 20 years working on red snapper, looking at somewhere between 20 and 30,000 fish, I've never seen anything like this either."

Dr Cowan, with Louisiana State University's Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences started hearing about fish with sores and lesions from fishermen in November 2010.

Cowan's findings replicate those of others living along vast areas of the Gulf Coast that have been impacted by BP's oil and dispersants.

Gulf of Mexico fishermen, scientists and seafood processors have told Al Jazeera they are finding disturbing numbers of mutated shrimp, crab and fish that they believe are deformed by chemicals released during BP's 2010 oil disaster.

Along with collapsing fisheries, signs of malignant impact on the regional ecosystem are ominous: horribly mutated shrimp, fish with oozing sores, underdeveloped blue crabs lacking claws, eyeless crabs and shrimp - and interviewees' fingers point towards BP's oil pollution disaster as being the cause.

Eyeless shrimp

Tracy Kuhns and her husband Mike Roberts, commercial fishers from Barataria, Louisiana, are finding eyeless shrimp.

"At the height of the last white shrimp season, in September, one of our friends caught 400 pounds of these," Kuhns told Al Jazeera while showing a sample of the eyeless shrimp.

According to Kuhns, at least 50 per cent of the shrimp caught in that period in Barataria Bay, a popular shrimping area that was heavily impacted by BP's oil and dispersants, were eyeless. Kuhns added: "Disturbingly, not only do the shrimp lack eyes, they even lack eye sockets."

Eyeless shrimp, from a catch of 400 pounds of eyeless shrimp, said to be caught September 22, 2011, in Barataria Bay, Louisiana [Erika Blumenfeld/Al Jazeera]

"Some shrimpers are catching these out in the open Gulf [of Mexico]," she added, "They are also catching them in Alabama and Mississippi. We are also finding eyeless crabs, crabs with their shells soft instead of hard, full grown crabs that are one-fifth their normal size, clawless crabs, and crabs with shells that don't have their usual spikes … they look like they've been burned off by chemicals."

On April 20, 2010, BP's Deepwater Horizon oilrig exploded, and began the release of at least 4.9 million barrels of oil. BP then used at least 1.9 million gallons of toxic Corexit dispersants to sink the oil.

Keath Ladner, a third generation seafood processor in Hancock County, Mississippi, is also disturbed by what he is seeing.

"I've seen the brown shrimp catch drop by two-thirds, and so far the white shrimp have been wiped out," Ladner told Al Jazeera. "The shrimp are immune compromised. We are finding shrimp with tumors on their heads, and are seeing this everyday."

While on a shrimp boat in Mobile Bay with Sidney Schwartz, the fourth-generation fisherman said that he had seen shrimp with defects on their gills, and "their shells missing around their gills and head".

"We've fished here all our lives and have never seen anything like this," he added.

Ladner has also seen crates of blue crabs, all of which were lacking at least one of their claws.

Darla Rooks, a lifelong fisherperson from Port Sulfur, Louisiana, told Al Jazeera she is finding crabs "with holes in their shells, shells with all the points burned off so all the spikes on their shells and claws are gone, misshapen shells, and crabs that are dying from within … they are still alive, but you open them up and they smell like they've been dead for a week".

Rooks is also finding eyeless shrimp, shrimp with abnormal growths, female shrimp with their babies still attached to them, and shrimp with oiled gills.

"We also seeing eyeless fish, and fish lacking even eye-sockets, and fish with lesions, fish without covers over their gills, and others with large pink masses hanging off their eyes and gills."

Rooks, who grew up fishing with her parents, said she had never seen such things in these waters, and her seafood catch last year was "ten per cent what it normally is".

"I've never seen this," he said, a statement Al Jazeera heard from every scientist, fisherman, and seafood processor we spoke with about the seafood deformities.

Given that the Gulf of Mexico provides more than 40 per cent of all the seafood caught in the continental US, this phenomenon does not bode well for the region, or the country.

 
 

BP's chemicals?

"The dispersants used in BP's draconian experiment contain solvents, such as petroleum distillates and 2-butoxyethanol. Solvents dissolve oil, grease, and rubber," Dr Riki Ott, a toxicologist, marine biologist and Exxon Valdez survivor told Al Jazeera. "It should be no surprise that solvents are also notoriously toxic to people, something the medical community has long known".

The dispersants are known to be mutagenic, a disturbing fact that could be evidenced in the seafood deformities. Shrimp, for example, have a life-cycle short enough that two to three generations have existed since BP's disaster began, giving the chemicals time to enter the genome.

Pathways of exposure to the dispersants are inhalation, ingestion, skin, and eye contact. Health impacts can include headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pains, chest pains, respiratory system damage, skin sensitisation, hypertension, central nervous system depression, neurotoxic effects, cardiac arrhythmia and cardiovascular damage. They are also teratogenic - able to disturb the growth and development of an embryo or fetus - and carcinogenic.

Cowan believes chemicals named polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), released from BP's submerged oil, are likely to blame for what he is finding, due to the fact that the fish with lesions he is finding are from "a wide spatial distribution that is spatially coordinated with oil from the Deepwater Horizon, both surface oil and subsurface oil. A lot of the oil that impacted Louisiana was also in subsurface plumes, and we think there is a lot of it remaining on the seafloor".

Dr Wilma Subra, a chemist and Macarthur Fellow, has conducted tests on seafood and sediment samples along the Gulf for chemicals present in BP's crude oil and toxic dispersants.

"Tests have shown significant levels of oil pollution in oysters and crabs along the Louisiana coastline," Subra told Al Jazeera. "We have also found high levels of hydrocarbons in the soil and vegetation."

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, PAHs "are a group of semi-volatile organic compounds that are present in crude oil that has spent time in the ocean and eventually reaches shore, and can be formed when oil is burned".

"The fish are being exposed to PAHs, and I was able to find several references that list the same symptoms in fish after the Exxon Valdez spill, as well as other lab experiments," explained Cowan. "There was also a paper published by some LSU scientists that PAH exposure has effects on the genome."

The University of South Florida released the results of a survey whose findings corresponded with Cowan's: a two to five per cent infection rate in the same oil impact areas, and not just with red snapper, but with more than 20 species of fish with lesions. In many locations, 20 per cent of the fish had lesions, and later sampling expeditions found areas where, alarmingly, 50 per cent of the fish had them.

"I asked a NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] sampler what percentage of fish they find with sores prior to 2010, and it's one tenth of one percent," Cowan said. "Which is what we found prior to 2010 as well. But nothing like we've seen with these secondary infections and at this high of rate since the spill."

"What we think is that it's attributable to chronic exposure to PAHs released in the process of weathering of oil on the seafloor," Cowan said. "There's no other thing we can use to explain this phenomenon. We've never seen anything like this before."

Official response

Questions raised by Al Jazeera's investigation remain largely unanswered.

Al Jazeera contacted the office of Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, who provided a statement that said the state continues to test its waters for oil and dispersants, and that it is testing for PAHs.

4.7 ·
5
What's Next
Trending Today
How Prison Labor Is the New American Slavery and Most of Us Unknowingly Support It
Sara Burrows · 34,042 views today · If you buy products or services from any of the 50 companies listed below (and you likely do), you are supporting modern American slavery
On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs
David Graeber · 19,317 views today · Ever had the feeling that your job might be made up? That the world would keep on turning if you weren’t doing that thing you do 9-5? David Graeber explored the phenomenon of...
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 17,846 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
A Perfect Symbol of Media Capture: DWS Booed, MSNBC Caption Says “Cheered”
Liam Miller · 17,184 views today · Monday morning saw Debbie Wasserman Schultz, former DNC chair, booed offstage at the Florida Democratic Delegation Breakfast; while it was transpiring, MSNBC's caption read...
25 Mind-Twisting Optical Illusion Paintings by Rob Gonsalves
Dovas · 16,928 views today · The beautiful and mind-bending illusions in Canadian artist Robert Gonsalves’ paintings have a fun way of twisting your perception and causing you to question what in his...
Eckhart Tolle: Your Facebook Ego, That's Not Who You Are
2 min · 15,931 views today · “Identification with thoughts and the emotions that go with those thoughts creates a false mind-made sense of self, conditioned by the past: the "little me" and its story. This...
Law Professor's Epic Response to Black Lives Matter Shirt Complaint
Social Design Notes · 11,730 views today · A first year law school student wrote a complaint about her professor having worn a Black Lives Matter T-shirt during class. The professor’s response is priceless. Scans of...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into A Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 10,461 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
I Stopped Eating Animals Because of Human Rights
Andy West · 7,900 views today · What does the meat industry do to people’s mental health?
"Don't Owe. Won't Pay." Everything You've Been Told About Debt Is Wrong
Charles Eisenstein · 5,207 views today · With the nation’s household debt burden at $11.85 trillion, even the most modest challenges to its legitimacy have revolutionary implications.
Demonstrators Demand 'Clean Energy Revolution' on Eve of Dem Convention
Jon Queally · 5,073 views today · 'When it comes to climate change, there’s precious little time for lesser evils; the physics—as scientists are quick to tell us—has put humanity on a deadline.' - Kate Aronoff
RSA ANIMATE: Economics Is for Everyone!
12 min · 4,993 views today · ‘Economics is for everyone’, argues legendary economist Ha-Joon Chang in our latest mind-blowing RSA Animate. This is the video economists don’t want you to see! Chang explains...
Depression Is a Disease of Civilization: Hunter-Gatherers Hold the Key to the Cure
Sara Burrows · 4,892 views today · Depression is a global epidemic. It is the main driver behind suicide, which now claims more than a million lives per year worldwide. One in four Americans will suffer from...
Who Are You? This Breathtaking Video Might Change Your Life
2 min · 4,703 views today · "Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can...
Extraordinary Film Turns Your Phone into a Refugee's Phone
3 min · 4,128 views today · If you had to flee your country, what’s the one piece of technology you would take with you? This striking film, designed to watch on a mobile phone, helps the viewer to...
A World War Has Begun - Break The Silence
John Pilger · 4,027 views today · I have been filming in the Marshall Islands, which lie north of Australia, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Whenever I tell people where I have been, they ask, "Where is...
Donald and Hobbes Is Genius
Various · 3,520 views today · Some clever folk have been replacing precocious 6-year-old Calvin, from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, with Donald Trump and the results are, well, take a look...
Wetiko - The Cannibalistic Disease Consuming Our Planet and Society
4 min · 3,516 views today · Wetiko is an Algonquin word for a cannibalistic spirit or thought-form driven by greed, excess and selfish consumption. It deludes it host into believing that consuming the...
The Importance of Staring Out of the Window
2 min · 3,217 views today · We are so busy and so obsessed with our phones, we rarely take a break to do that vital and rather philosophical thing: stare out of the window. 
“You Can Have Your Weak Nominee If You Wish” – the Sanders Endorsement Backfires on Hillary Clinton, Empowers Sanders in One Masterstroke
Saib Bilaval · 2,946 views today · Ultimately, what the Sanders endorsement has proved is what the candidate was arguing from the beginning – that it was not Sanders and his campaign that was holding Hillary...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Gulf Seafood Deformities Alarm Scientists