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WASHINGTON – A biological research study released Monday, Sept 26, shows that effects on the Louisiana killifish could lead to reporduction problems for fish populations.

Gulf killifish, Fundulus grandis. Credit: USGS.

Findings reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and compiled by researchers from Louisiana State, Texas State and Clemson universities, state that minnow-like killfish showed cell abnormalities two months after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico had disappeared.

MotherJones reports:

The researchers collected water and tissue samples from six sites—though only one, Louisiana’s Barataria Bay was heavily oiled. They collected at three times:

• Once in early May before oil had reached shore
• Once in late June when the marshes were fouled
• Once in late August when oil was no longer visible

The researchers found that exposure to BP’s crude oil caused the same kind of changes in gene expression in adult killifish from the marshes as in killifish embryos exposed to contaminated water samples in the lab. These types of changes are known to:

• cause developmental abnormalities
• to diminish embryo survival
• to lower reproductive success

“Their biology is telling us that they’ve been a.) exposed to these chemicals and b.) affected by them in negative ways,” associate biology professor at LSU, Andrew Whitehead, told the Washington Post.

“Very low-level exposures can cause these toxic effects,” he said.

“The message that seafood is safe to eat doesn’t necessarily mean that the animals are out of the woods,”

According to The Post, the killifish examined were taken from six areas from Barataria Bay in Louisiana to Mobile Bay off Alabama. The fish were showing the same initial signs of toxicity that appeared in herring and harlequin ducks after Alaska’s 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, Whitehead said. Populations of those species declined precipitously and have yet to recover.

Miami Herald reports:

The study found the same kind of cellular responses in killifish as were observed in herring, salmon and other animals that later had large population losses as a result of the Exxon Valdez spill, Whitehead said.

It will take several years before it will be known whether the population of Louisiana killifish, an important food for other fish, declines, Whitehead said.

The researchers found that when they exposed developing fish embryos to the same water and sediment in the lab, they showed the same cellular responses.

They also found that the gill tissues weren’t healthy. The gills are important for helping the fish compensate for changes in its environment such as shifts in temperature and levels of salt and oxygen in the water, Whitehead said.

Doug Inkley, a senior scientist with the National Wildlife Federation, said the killifish, also known as the bull minnow or cacahoe, was an important part of the food chain.

“This study is alarming because similar health effects seen in fish, sea otters and harlequin ducks following the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska were predictive of population impacts, from decline to outright collapse,” he said in a written statement.

The study “is a reminder that even small amounts of oil can have a large and lasting impact on individual fish and wildlife,” he said.


Maritime attorneys, Gordon, Elias & Seely, L.L.P. work with Jones Act clients all along the Gulf Coast and throughout the nation. We are the leading offshore injury law firm representing victims of the BP, Transocean Deepwater Horizon disaster, along with assisting businesses that were damaged by the impact of the Gulf oil spill. For a free consultation, call an expert maritime lawyer 24/7 at 800.773.6770.

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