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Previously unreleased photographs show impact of BP oil on endangered sea turtles

One of a few previously unreleased photographs from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, show oil-covered and dead endangered sea turtles. (Courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration via Greenpeace)

Previously unreleased photographs from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico show boxes and bags full of oil-covered and dead endangered sea turtles and a group of sperm whales swimming through an oil sheen.

The photographs were obtained by the environmental group Greenpeace through a Freedom of Information Act request sent to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in July 2010.

John Hocevar, Greenpeace’s director of ocean campaigns, said the photographs paint a more dire picture of the effects of the spilled oil on endangered species than federal agencies presented during the disaster.

“We were seeing so many pictures and stories of turtles that were scrubbed clean and released back into the wild [in 2010]. The emphasis was on rescue,” Hocevar said. “At the same time, they had all these shocking pictures of dead turtles, turtles in garbage bags, turtles in boxes that present a very different image of the impacts of the disaster.”

Attempts to reach three NOAA officials Sunday for a response were unsuccessful.

Most of the oiled and dead turtles in the pictures appear to be Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, which the United States lists as endangered.

Two photographs show what appear to be three adult sperm whales and one juvenile sperm whale swimming through an oil slick. In 2010, an NOAA official said the unnatural deaths of just three adult sperm whales in the northern Gulf of Mexico could crash the small population of the endangered mammals living there.

NOAA is leading an environmental evaluation of oil damage to gulf ecosystems that will be used to assess penalties on BP. The process, which is the biggest such assessment the federal government has ever conducted, is likely to “continue for years,” NOAA documents state.

“The most lasting impacts of the BP Horizon disaster are likely to be effects on endangered species like sperm whales and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles,” Hocevar said. “We have a long way to go before we can begin to understand what the full impacts look like.”

Since the spill, NOAA has collected 613 dead sea turtles from the northern Gulf of Mexico and relocated 274 turtle nests to Atlantic Ocean beaches in Florida.

Triggered by an explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 20, 2010, the gulf oil spill was the largest and longest in U.S. history. Eleven workers were killed in the explosion.

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