Oil Spill Effects Can Be Seen In 'Signal Fish' Off Gulf Coast

There's no doubt that humanity's deleterious effects have been seen more and more throughout the planet over the last few years that have seen all manner of pollution from air to water. Now new research shows that a "signal fish" in the Gulf Coast called the killifish has been harmed via toxins in its water that resulted from the crude oil spill of 2010's Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster.

Over the span of four trips to oil-contaminated Grande Terre, La. and nearby sites in Mississippi and Alabama that were not affected by the 2010 oil spill (for reference), researchers gathered Gulf killifish (Fundulus grandis) between May 2010 and August 2011.

Gulf Killifish are considered "signal fish" because they don't migrate and are thus prime indicators of the toxins in their central ecosystem. They also share many characteristics with fellow Gulf denizens: redfish, speckled trout, flounder, blue crabs, shrimp and oysters.

"Analyses of the Grande Terre fish revealed abnormal gene expression in their liver and gill tissues," National Science Foundation via LiveScience reports in an analysis published on Wednesday, May 22.

"Furthermore, embryos that were exposed in the lab to Grande Terre sediments failed to hatch or were smaller and showed 'poor vigor.' The embryos also suffered edema, or excessive fluid buildup, around the heart and in the yolk sac."

It should be noted that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill –– whose consequence was the dissemination of more than 210 million gallons of crude oil –– is the largest such disaster in recorded history.

"These effects are characteristic of crude oil toxicity," co-author Andrew Whitehead said.

"It's important that we observe it in the context of the Deepwater Horizon spill because it tells us it is far too early to say the effects of the oil spill are known and inconsequential," Whitehead, who is a assistant professor of environmental toxicology at UC Davis, continued. "By definition, effects on reproduction and development -- effects that could impact populations -- can take time to emerge."

Since certain areas of the coastline were not coated by the Deepwater Horizon spill, according to Whitehead's and his group's studies, it's very possible some of the killifish may have been less affected than others.

The published study can be read here.

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