SARASOTA — Has the Gulf oil spill caused unusual sightings of large fish near shore? Will evaporating oil cause acid rain? What is the probability that oil will eventually stain the area’s pristine beaches?
Those were just some of the questions posed Wednesday night by those attending a forum at Mote Marine Laboratory on the Gulf oil spill.
Jan Christianson, 54, an artist from Bradenton and one of about 100 people in attendance, found the two-hour session “very informative.”
He said he was just a concerned citizen who attended to learn basic information.
Also attending were Diana Kryszak, who is in real estate, and her husband, Ziggy, 62, who is retired, both of Longboat Key. They said they live on the water, and were wondering what would happen to the wildlife in the Gulf.
“They tell us it’s been capped,” she said of BP’s Deepwater Horizon well. “But has it been, really?”
In answer to a question about large fish seen near shore, Robert Hueter, senior scientist and director of the Center for Shark Research, confirmed there had been reports of big fish that typically don’t come close to shore.
Early in the spill, he said a huge tiger shark was spotted off the beach in Nokomis; sport fishermen reported catching sailfish and tuna within 20 miles of the beach, when they normally remain far offshore.
“It’s speculative at this point,” whether the matter might be connected to the oil spill, he said.
Mote plans to bring scientists in to discuss displacement of large animals, and how it relates to the long-term environmental health of the Gulf, he added.
In answering a question about whether evaporating oil could cause acid rain, Dana Wetzel, senior scientist and manager of the aquatic toxicology program, said it was a valid concern, but that, no, it wouldn’t produce acid rain.
Answering a question about the probability of oil washing up in the Sarasota or Tampa Bay area, Richard Pierce, senior scientist and director of the Center for Ecotoxicology, said there is a very low probability of oil hitting the west coast of Florida.
The oil spill began at BP’s Deepwater Horizon well off the Louisiana coast in April, with a fire and explosion. More than 200 million gallons of oil leaked from the runaway well before it was capped July 15. It is the worst oil disaster in the nation’s history.
Although oil washed up in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and some northwestern Florida counties, locally, Manatee and Sarasota counties remain pristine.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.