Eyeless shrimp. Clawless crabs. Fish with ugly lesions and missing appendages. Fishermen along America's Gulf Coast say they've never seen anything like the weird deformities they're finding in their catches – and lots of them, too.
The US government and the energy giant BP insist nothing's wrong. But exactly two years after the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon oil spill, many researchers believe the disaster may be exactly what's caused this alarming damage to sea life in the Gulf.
Out of sight...
The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on 20 April 2010 killed 11 workers and triggered a blow-out that allowed crude oil to gush from the ocean floor for three months. An estimated 4.9m barrels (780m litres) of oil were released into the Gulf – as well as 7.2m litres (1.9m gallons) of the dispersant Corexit, a toxic soup of solvents, many of which cause cancer. The Corexit was used to chemically break up the slicks so that the oil would sink to the sea floor.
Scientists have been studying reports of deformation in Gulf sea critters for more than a year, after fishermen and seafood processors started to tell horror stories of bizarre deformities and mutations. Darla Rooks, a lifelong fisherwoman from Port Sulphur, Louisiana, told al-Jazeera she's 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."
Now, the growing body of research is showing the extent of the problem, and the likely cause. Dr Jim Cowan, of Louisiana State University's Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, says it's probably due to the effects of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) released by the spilled oil. "There's no other thing we can use to explain this phenomenon," he admits. "We've never seen anything like this before."
Take action: Disasters like this don't need to happen if we invest in cleaner, safer energy. Support Oceana's “Stop the Drill” campaign to end offshore drilling and boost offshore wind power.