Oregon Researchers Study Whales Affected By Deepwater Horizon Spill

By Rachael McDonald

A team of marine mammal researchers from Newport, Ore. is headed to the Gulf of Mexico on Monday to tag sperm whales near the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010. They'll find out how the whales are doing three years later.

Bruce Mate is the director of the Marine Mammal Institute at the Hatfield Marine Science Center. He says his team has been going to the Gulf region since before the oil spill.

"From 2001 to 2005 we tagged about 60 sperm whales in this region. And it was the first time anybody had done work with sperm whales of this sort actually anywhere in the world."

Mate says the tags are very sophisticated and can collect information about range of movement. He says they know sperm whales live in the Gulf year round. They're able to compare data from before and after the spill.

"We haven’t seen animals that are emaciated and we've seen calves in the population. All of which bode well," Mate says. "As an ecologist, I'd have to say that I have some reassurance I guess that the ecosystem can absorb more than a lot of people thought."

Bruce Mate says he can draw conclusions based on the whale's health — that their food sources, including squid, seem to be in good supply.

But there's much more to discover. Mate says it will be several months to analyze data gathered this summer.

On the Web:

Marine Mammal Institute - Oregon State University

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