Gulf Of Mexico Overflight 2011 Mar 19 Saturday
Today we decided to take a close look at Barataria Bay, Louisiana and southward, from Grand Isle on the west to South Pass on the east. We had to investigate what we saw yesterday that had looked gruesomely reminiscent of the large oil spills of last summer -- especially the one in northern Barataria Bay at the end of July 2010, when a tugboat accidentally bumped into an abandoned platform and set it spewing, filling Bay Jimmy and northern Barataria.
The moment we reached Grand Terre Island, we knew that what we had seen yesterday was for real. Those long dark red streamers and large sub-surface plumes were now even larger sheets of dark red crude that reached to the beaches of Grand Terre Island. We tried to follow the stuff offshore to find its source, but could no longer see it clearly after about 30 miles. There had been rumors of the Matterhorn rig being the source (located about 25 miles west of the Macondo well), but since we didn't know for sure, we opted instead to examine these large expanses of subsurface oil and look for wildlife. The oil did extend for many miles eastward and out to sea, but it did not seem to be coming from far offshore.
NOTE: Unless noted, no photos or video provided by On Wings Of Care are "photoshopped" or otherwise altered in any way that could degrade accurate interpretation of what we observed.
On returning toward the shallows and the beaches of Grand Terre Island, we found that wildlife we were seeking. But it was not at all like the wildlife we saw yesterday. Yesterday, in the sea-facing shallows of the Barrier islands, the Chandeleurs, and Isles Dernieres, we saw numerous pods of bottlenose dolphin (as many as 300 that we could count for sure from the air), large balls of pogey, cobia, sharks, and many schools of cownose rays. But what we saw here today was reminiscent of what we saw week after week, month after month last summer. There was little or no wildlife here, and those we saw in this vicinity were barely moving. About a mile off shore was a green turtle, floating motionless even when we flew over him at low altitude (not typical behavior for turtles). A very large bull redfish was floating dead on its side in the bay just to the east of Grand Terre Island.
Very near the east beach of Grand Terre Island, we noticed a small group of dolphins behaving peculiarly. They were swimming in tight circles, in and out of the water, slapping fins, very agitated. Then we saw a dolphin at their center who appeared just to be floating. The other dolphins appeared to be trying to push it up. Twenty minutes after we started observing the group, they stopped. The quiet dolphin appeared to sink vertically (at least below our sight), and the others swam slowly out of the bay southward -- right toward the huge patch of oil shown in these photos! This was a very difficult sight to witness.
As disturbing as seeing animals clearly in distress was the sight of two shrimpers pulling nets, right in the middle of these huge expanses of oil. They must have had no idea where they were. And NOAA had not (as of this evening, even) closed any of this area to fishing. After we landed, we made a phone call to the 800-oil spill number in Washington, D.C., and were met with disinterest bordering on belligerence. Our friend Mike Roberts then called the US Coast Guard to inform them of this. They said that they would look into it the next day (Sunday Mar 20).
We have more photos than the few shown here and will try to gather them into a slideshow in the coming days. We thank our photographer-activist and friend John Wathan for joining us on this flight and aiming his camera as we aimed our plane.