Photo credit: USFWS/Southeast
As BP moves to permanently seal the blown-out well that unleashed 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the focus is turning to the toll of the disaster. It should be said that the true and total toll will not be known for some time, until scientists have had a chance to properly investigate the extent of the damage above and below the sea. But there are some things we can start looking at now: Like the direct number of casualties among the Gulf's wildlife the spill has claimed so far. Thousands of animals -- birds, sea turtles, dolphins, and reptiles -- have been killed so far. Birds have fared the worst -- 3,902 have officially been collected dead*. These birds include the threatened brown pelican, Louisiana's state bird. The birds are killed after ingesting oil while attempting to clean it off of their feathers. 1,869 have been collected alive, and some 775 of those have been released into the wild -- though many scientists believe that only a small percentage of those will survive.
517 sea turtles, all of which are considered endangered, have been killed by the spill. Another 500 oiled turtles have been collected alive, and their future is uncertain. Many of these turtles belong to a species called Kemp's Ridley, the smallest and most endangered sea turtle in the world.
71 marine mammals, mostly dolphins, have been killed over the course of the spill thus far. One solitary, unidentified reptile has also perished in the spill.
These numbers are still rolling in, and at a much faster pace than before. As Mother Jones explains, "More injured and dead wildlife has been found in the 25 days since BP capped the well than when it was still spewing." This is thought to be due to the fact that rescuers have now been able to venture into sensitive areas for the first time. The Times-Picayune breaks down the alarmingly increased rate that new dead wildlife is being discovered at:
- 37 oiled birds were collected on average each day prior to July 15, with 71 oiled birds collected on average each day after July 15.
- Prior to the cap, 56 percent of oiled birds were collected alive. Since then, only 41 percent have been collected alive.
- More sea turtles have been collected now than during the first three months of the spill: 428 oiled sea turtles recovered in total, with 222 coming in the only past past 10 days.
And I know it's become part of the conventional wisdom regarding this spill that things could have been much worse for the Gulf wildlife -- and while I'm certainly glad that it hasn't been worse, we have to bear in mind that this is far from over. And every time you hear that these casualty numbers are "lower than expected", consider that thousands of animals -- all of which helped comprise vibrant, unique ecosystems -- would still be alive today if it weren't for a massive oil spill that raged uncontrolled for months.
*All the figures come from the official Deepwater Horizon response's Consolidated Fish & Wildlife Collection Report. Actual figures may be higher.
More on Wildlife Deaths in the BP Gulf Spill
3000 Birds Now Killed or Covered by Oil in the Gulf
467 Endangered Sea Turtles Killed by BP Spill So Far
Oil, Dead Sea Turtle and Baby Dolphin Wash Ashore on Island Off Gulf
Up Close and Personal With the Birds Threatened by the Gulf Oil