A Three Year Study of Metal Levels in Skin Biopsies of Whales in the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Crisis
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In response to the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon and the massive release of oil that followed, we conducted three annual research voyages to investigate how the oil spill would impact the marine offshore environment. Most investigations into the ecological and toxicological impacts of the Deepwater Horizon Oil crisis have mainly focused on the fate of the oil and dispersants, but few have considered the release of metals into the environment. From studies of previous oil spills, other marine oil industries, and analyses of oil compositions, it is evident that metals are frequently encountered. Several metals have been reported in the MC252 oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, including the nonessential metals aluminum, arsenic, chromium, nickel, and lead; genotoxic metals, such as these are able to damage DNA and can bioaccumulate in organisms resulting in persistent exposure. In the Gulf of Mexico, whales are the apex species; hence we collected skin biopsies from sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus), short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus), and Bryde's whales (Balaenoptera edeni). The results from our three-year study of monitoring metal levels in whale skin show (1) genotoxic metals at concentrations higher than global averages previously reported and (2) patterns for MC252-relevant metal concentrations decreasing with time from the oil spill.