Crew members aboard the research vessel Pisces photographed this dead young sperm whale on the morning of June 15, 2010, about two months after the Deepwater Horizon rig began leaking oil.
Photographs of a dead sperm whale and a cache of emails obtained by Greenpeace show how officials in the Obama administration attempted to suppress knowledge of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil blowout’s impact on wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico.
Greenpeace obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act request and made them available to The Guardian.
The plight of endangered wildlife, such as sea turtles and sperm whales, has big financial consequences for BP. An outstanding $7.8 billion settlement for economic damages may be increased when animals killed by the spill are taken into account. There were believed to be roughly 1,200 sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico at the time of the spill—one of the biggest populations in the world.
The released emails show that members of a crew aboard the NOAA research vessel Pisces spotted a dead sperm whale 77 miles south of the Deepwater Horizon spill on the morning of June 15, 2010. Higher-ups subsequently ordered them not to release photographs or information about the whale.
Meanwhile, NOAA observers on another vessel at the well site that same day spotted five whales, including a juvenile, covered in oil. “Observers noticed that the young whale was covered in oil sheen,” the detection report notes. “It is very possible that these adults were covered in the same oil as the juvenile whale was covered in as the water quality was very poor with iridescent sheens all over the surface.”
The detection report goes on to describe a large plume of smoke rising from the water, from the controlled burns used to stop the oil from reaching the shoreline. “Small brown globs of what appear to be oil and possibly oil dispersant infiltrate the water.”
There is no further indication in the email about what happened to the group of five whales. However, a map included in the email release shows a variety of marine life coming into close range of BP’s broken well, including 16 sperm whales. The NOAA spokesman Scott Smullen would not respond to questions about the email.