Researchers recently sailed into the Gulf of Mexico to investigate how the infamous BP oil spill has affected large organisms on the deep sea horizon over the last three years. There are concerns that as predators, large marine organisms might concentrate toxins found in their food sources.
Polycycling aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, are the most dangerous constituents of oil. PAHs interfere with DNA and can alter gene expression and cell cycle dynamics; several PAHs are classified as carcinogens. The research result of this expedition shows that the levels of exposure to PAHs in the Gulf are about equivalent to what you’d expect in an urban harbor, such as Baltimore or a Miami. This means the oil spill wasn’t catastrophic, but it also tells us the deep sea is not as pristine as we imagine it would be.
While the expedition’s goal was to examine the health of the entire deep-sea macrofaunal community, an encounter of a 12-foot-long Greenland Shark became the highlight of the trip. Although very excited to find a polar shark at the warm Gulf of Mexico, researchers say this is not the only Greenland shark in the Gulf.
Photo Credit: Dean Grubbs, FSU