Oil poses threat to whale sharks, tuna
Images show oil flowing into loop current

Updated: Tuesday, 18 May 2010, 8:07 PM EDT
Published : Tuesday, 18 May 2010, 8:07 PM EDT


The latest satellite images of the oil slick are alarming. It has grown and is flowing into the loop current of the Eastern Gulf.

Scientists in Mississippi are trying to gauge the impact of the spill as it spreads into the prime habitat of biggest fish in the Gulf.

They're leviathans... whale sharks nearly 30 feet long and blue fin tuna that can top 1,000 pounds. Dr. Eric Hoffmayer with the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Laboratory pointed right at the oil slick on a map.

"This is right in prime habitat for them," he said.

He's been studying the docile whale sharks for years. They spend their summers in the northern Gulf and they are spotted most often right where the oil slick is the worst.

"Most of these animals spend 80, 90 percent of their time at the surface filter feeding," Dr. Hoffmayer said. "So you can see how this can have a tremendous impact."


A team of researchers from the lab is steaming out into the Gulf. They'll try and get vital data on both the whale sharks and blue fin tuna.

"Currently they're on our 100-foot research vessel, the Tommy Munro. They're doing some work funded by the National Marine Fishery Center, looking at the larval blue fin tuna that occur at the loop current boundary," fishery researcher Read Herndon said.

This puts them on the front lines. Current satellite images show the oil flowing into the loop current. Once in this strong river of water, there is nothing to keep the oil from spreading farther, through the Florida Keys and then up the East Coast.

Researchers at the lab have been doing studies for years, but they've never dealt with anything like this.

"This was always a potential, but up to this point we've never had to deal with a spill of this magnitude," Hoffmayer said.

"The main concern right now is the uncertainty," Herndon told FOX10.

Researchers also say that when these huge fish die, they sink. Making it hard to know if they are being killed by the oil.