BLACK POISON: Seashells coated with oil caused by a spill are pictured by the shore in Dalian, China. — Reuters file photo
By Mary Margaret
LAST weekend, I read a number of newspaper and online reports about oil spills and in particular the BP spill (spill is such a mild term) in the United States, which has created a tsunami of economic and environmental devastation. The news cannot but shock.
● The oil spill began on
April 20 and according to newspaper reports will be fully capped this week. The volume flowing from the well has been widely reported, and one figure reported a possible maximum of 16,000 cubic metres
● Reports of the area of ocean affected varies widely from 6,500 to 180,000 square km.
● Since April 20, oil spills have occurred all over the world — four in the United States, one each in Egypt, China, Niger and Nigeria. There was also an oil spill the Singapore Straits on May 25.
● Some types of bacteria on the ocean floor are able to consume the naturally leaking oil.
● Wind and water currents spread (dissipates) the oil.
● Oil can be contained by booms and burnt off. Oil can also be reclaimed.
● The saying that a picture is worth more than a thousand words definitely applies to the images of birds, including pelicans, drenched in the black oil.
Ecological damage is due to petroleum and dispersal agent poisoning and a lack of oxygen; but it is the pictures that hit strongly. The saying that a picture is worth more than a thousand words definitely applies to the images of birds, including pelicans, drenched in the black oil. Images of the black oil invading marshes and workers desperately trying to stop the flow.
As I read the reports I felt my heart go out to the families who lost loved ones in the disaster; despaired the ecological damage to vital wetlands; felt the loss of beaches and clean water; shuddered at the images of blackened water; cried with the birds drenched in oil; saluted the thousands of people cleaning up the mess and trying to put a cap on the flow of oil; and wondered what it would have been like to be an ocean going animal when the disaster of the BP oil flood started.
This thoughts led to the short tale, ‘In the Centre’.
A tall metal coral column that sprouted from above was entwined with masses of wires and echoing engines. Rock-loving creatures — barnacles, oysters and clams — clung on during the rise and fall of the tides and waves. In a word, the clam- coated steel coral ridge was the perfect hideaway in play and danger.
Our pod of about 12 ‘aunties’ and six ‘cousins’ was on the move as we always are. I am the youngest, but I am much larger than my 1,000kg birth weight. My mother says I am the greediest of all my brothers — but I don’t know as they have all left to form pods of their own. We, Sperm Whales, are one of the largest toothed whales and females can reach 25,000kg, males twice that at 50,000kg, but we can swim. In our passion and hunt for our favourite food, giant squid, we can go down to 3,000 metres and stay there for up to two hours.
My mother was off and the aunts were taking care of me. Above the humongous floating oyster and clam reef hummed with activity. At slightly more that five metres I can still hide among the tiers and lay in wait for squid.
I didn’t hear the explosion, I felt it; wave after wave of pounding sounds pummelled my ears. Terror spread. Flying into frantic flight was without thought. I was off.
Hunter and prey turned and ran before the nerve shattering sound waves that rode through the ocean. The ocean churned with undulating bodies. I am a whale and I need to breathe air — oh how I wish I swim deep and far, but I couldn’t.
A ball of fire rose into the crystal blue water sky and the heat burned the ocean’s surface. A quick breath through the blowhole on the top of my head and I turned to the safety of the deep — 10 metres — at least the water was not on fire. I swam unthinkingly.
Exhaustion — I had run the run — sleep.
INNOCENT VICTIMS: Pelicans drenched in oil wait to be rescued in the US. — AFP file photo
The alarm spread quickly across the Gulf — the lifeblood of one community was destroying another. An explosion had ripped through the drilling platform. Black gold had become black poison.
Stop the flow — disperse, burn, contain — gooey black tar smothered the ocean. Rescue the animals — pelicans, sea turtles and other sea animals. The emergency staff knew the drill; and had hoped that the practice would never need to be used.
A white pelican now black quietly awaited its doom. The tar weighed it down. The oil stuck. The bird gave up.
“Quick into the bath, get the oil off this bird ...”
I floated along the surface coming up to breathe. The light dawned, as did the slow knowledge that the water was black and black tar clung to the surface. It burned my eyes and skin. I felt it in my lungs and blowhole. I had escaped the fire and explosion only to be caught by a slow-moving enemy.
“Over there ... a whale calf ...”
To be continued