"If the Gulf of Mexico oil spill kills just three sperm whales, it could seriously endanger the long-term survival of the Gulf's native whale population, scientists say."
Sperm whales are an endangered species anyhow, but the Gulf population is especially threatened, because its numbers are so small. Currently, there are between 1,400 and 1,660 sperm whales living in the Gulf year-round. Subtract just three from that figure, and the populations long-term survival is at risk.
photo credit Rachel Denny Clow via National Geographic
The whales have a high chance of exposure to the oil because they must surface to breathe. If they come up for air in an oil slick, they could potentially suck in oil or breathe the toxic fumes that accompany it - which can be powerful enough to make adult whales pass out and drown! There is also the risk of their food sources being contaminated with oil, mainly fish and squid.
Experts are worried this may be a repeat of what happened to the killer whales after the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, where so many females died that the population still hasn't been able to recover - and likely never will.
Full article here (National Geographic)