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Predatory fish embryo heart defects caused by Deepwater Horizon oil spill

The embryos of the major predatory and food fish in the Gulf of Mexico suffered a much higher then normal level of heart defects as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill according to new research conducted by scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Stanford University, the University of Miami, and, the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia that was published in the March 24, 2014, edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A normal yellowfin tuna larva not long after hatching (top), and a larva exposed to Deepwater Horizon crude oil during embryonic development (bottom).
Credit: Image courtesy of John Incardona.

The study assessed the impact of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) taken from the surface skimming operations in the Gulf of Mexico after the oil spill and from the source pipe attached to the damaged Deepwater Horizon wellhead on the embryos of bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna, and amberjack.

All species of fish tested demonstrated virtually identical defects including irregular heartbeat, circulatory disruption, and pericardial fluid accumulation. Bluefin tuna were the species that showed the greatest degree of damage and have subsequently been listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as endangered.

The researchers expect their results to be relevant to swordfish, billfish, and other large predators that spawned during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The methodology developed is expected to be used as a barometer of fish health in new oil spill events.

The levels of PAH used in the experiments were within the range evolved by the Deepwater Horizon event. The researchers found that embryos were damaged at very low PAH levels.

There has not been any estimate of the number of heart defects that have been passed on to subsequent generations of fish by those fish that were exposed to oil and survived.

The ads from Gulf Coast fishermen that were funded with BP fines claiming how healthy and wholesome Gulf Coast seafood is after the Deepwater Horizon event appear to be an overstatement in light of the new research.

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