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Florida oil spill disaster threatens Gulf of Mexico Sperm whales with extinction
The BP oil spill is gushing in the undersea canyon where Gulf of Mexico Sperm whales have been documented feeding and raising their young. The secretive, deep water mammals have been on the endangered species list since 1970 because they were hunted to the brink of extinction for their blubber and natural oil. Now the BP oil spill disaster is threatening to end their existence.
Satellite tracking has shown a group of whales inhabiting an area south of Western Florida Panhandle to the South Coast of Texas. According to Green Nature, “New research about sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico continues to suggest they are a distinct population....a rough estimate of their population is approximately 1,100.”
There are 29 marine mammal species in the Gulf of Mexico; 15 of them are whales. Tampa area boaters, as well as visitors on land have spotted dolphins and other marine mammals surfacing for air. The Florida Aquarium offers dolphin and whale watching boat tours for a first hand look.
Sperm whales have inhabited earths oceans for 25 million years. Much like humans, their calves nurse for up to 2 years and their lifespan is 70 years. Males remain with their families for up to 21 years, females have been known to stay in the same pod for life, but research is limited. At 67 feet long and up to 70 tons, they are the largest living toothed mammals on the planet.
“The aftermath of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill offers a glimpse into what might be in store for the sperm whales of the Gulf. Many North Pacific killer whales died throughout the year after that 11 million gallon spill. Forty percent of the whales in the most exposed groups died, including all of the breeding females in one group. As more long-term studies emerge, we see that after 20 years, the killer whales still have not fully recovered,” according to CNN.
On Tuesday, the decomposed body of a juvenile sperm whale was found just 77 miles from the Deepwater Horizon well site.
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