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Dolphin Tale Meets Oil Sludge

Date posted: Monday, December 5, 2011

The irony of our attitude toward wildlife.

Photograph via Flickr by Scott the Hobo

Photograph via Flickr by Scott the Hobo

Here in Clearwater, Florida, we’re hyping up the movie Dolphin Tale, the story of tailless Winter and her rehabilitation by local aquarium staff. But while we’re billing ourselves as wildlife saviors, Winter’s dead friends are washing up on the beaches to little fanfare. The St. Petersburg Times reports over 500 dolphins have washed ashore dead on the Gulf Coast in the past two years, and scientists think the Deepwater Horizon oil spill helped kill them. Officials caution they’re still investigating the connection and can’t draw definitive conclusions. But what about those sick-looking red snapper with lesions and rotted fins that fisherman keep reeling in? Researchers at Louisiana State University link their malaise to chronic toxin exposure, and the prime toxin suspect is oil from Deepwater Horizon. It would be no surprise if it turns out an assault of such magnitude continues to harm marine life over a year later.

What’s shocking is that this news hasn’t spurred outrage and demands for alternative energy that won’t jeopardize marine life and coastal economies. Environmental groups have pushed for clean energy alternatives for years, but where’s everyone else? In recent months federal officials approved new BP oil and gas exploration in the deepwater Gulf. How is this possible, when proof of continuing devastation from last year’s explosion keeps rolling in, tens of thousands of claims are outstanding, coastal tourism languishes? Sure, the government tightened its rules, created a new agency. But weren’t the old rules supposed to protect us? Just a few years ago drilling proponents mocked protesters, smugly assuring the public pumping oil offshore was safer than safe. It turns out they were the ones with their heads in the sand. Why don’t we call them on it?

Nuclear energy poses an even graver threat to humans and animals, but we can’t break off that love affair either. It boggles the mind that Japan would touch nuclear after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and it remains to be seen if that country can recover from the Fukushima meltdown. A prescient handful of countries worldwide have backed off the technology, but here in Florida we strap on our blinders and tout its safety and cleanliness, funding new reactors even as old ones fall into costly disrepair. Not that we’ve figured out what to do with the radioactive waste. Where’s the “Occupy” contingent demanding we stop poisoning the planet?

We can suck up the oil spills and meltdowns and call them the price of progress, but prepare for more dead people, wildlife, wrecked beaches and economies. Or we can stop treating our oceans like garbage cans, killing ourselves with our twenty-first century toys. We can make the tough choices, get rid of cars, switch to mass transit, cut the birthrate, ban nuclear reactors. Hard to do, harder to sell politically. Where are the leaders who’ll change our direction before the next debacle? Nowhere to be found. The heads-in-the-sand people still run the show, reaping profits while they put us all at risk. We need a Green Spring, visionaries who see beyond the horizon and shift course before it’s too late. But if we lack the nerve to force this sea change, at least stop shilling Winter while we kill off her friends.


Here’s an AP report on how the BP oil spill has affected dolphins in the Gulf Coast of Mississippi.

Here’s a video from the National Wildlife Federation of a dolphin struggling to swim in oily water.

And here’s a preview of Dolphin Tale.

—Videos from Construction

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Liz Drayer practiced environmental and energy law in Washington, D.C. She contributes opinion columns as well as fiction to both print and online publications.

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  • susan

    great piece Liz,
    and you said it ” when will WE stop poisoning our planet ” ? !