According to Sea Shepherd, whale sharks are not the only sharks in the Gulf that bear watching.
Funded by private donors and currently out of money for boats, the international conservation organization continues to maintain a presence in the Gulf.
“In all conservation issues, we won’t take no for an answer,” said Sea Shepherd Gulf Operations liaison Dr. Bonny Schumaker. “One month you can take soil and water samples, the next month you can’t. They (BP) want everyone to look away.”
Founded in 1977, Sea Shepherd is a nonprofit marine wildlife environmental organization whose mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans. They use direct-action tactics to investigate, document and act when necessary to report illegal activities at sea.
The group attained celebrity as stars of the television series “Whale Wars” and were featured in the award-winning documentary, “The Cove,” which exposed the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. They cooperate fully with all international law enforcement agencies.
The seven-person Gulf Operation Rescue team is composed of Brock Cahill, David Hance, Charles Harmison, Dean Miya, Rex Levi, Kevin Compton and Schumaker.
A licensed, BP-approved pilot, Schumaker has flown reconnaissance surveys since the Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20, killing 11 workers.
The group has gained access to restricted sites. Schumaker’s not pleased with what she’s seen.
“People aren’t allowed to accompany BP into the area,” she said. “There’s an information gap.”
Sea Shepherd also recruited boats from local marinas and private citizens to mount a tagging expedition of the whale shark, a slow-moving filter-feeding shark resembling a whale that feeds chiefly on plankton. Whale sharks are the canary in the mine, according to Schumaker, since what affects them will travel up and down the food chain.
“We’ve seen them eating small fish, not plankton,” she said. “Their eating habits are changing, but nothing can be done without planes and fast boats, and scientists simply don’t have the funds.”
Schumaker’s most recent surveillance mission sighted 12 whale sharks on Sept. 5, 150 miles east of New Orleans.
“If that’s how many there are, then the rig site’s been devastated,” she said.
Sea Shepherd reports no wildlife sighted within 50 miles of the Deepwater Horizon site. The whale shark has been classified as vulnerable and redlisted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Vulnerable status means a species is likely to become endangered unless its circumstances improve.
In addition to allegations that BP is evading environmental issues, Sea Shepherd alleges the oil is not gone, and dispersants are present in areas where BP claims none were used.
She claims water samples taken by Sea Shepherd contain the chemical dispersant Corexit and its three components, one of which is 2-butoxyethanol, a highly toxic chemical that has long been linked to the health problems of cleanup crews who worked on the Exxon Valdez spill.
“Shrimpers in the Mississippi Sound need to know,” Schumaker said. “Shrimp, crab, oysters — we’re sending them all for toxicology analysis.”
Of about thirty nongovernmental organizations initially on site, to Schumaker’s knowledge, hers is the only group to take sampling initiatives, including unofficial necropsies of pelicans, egrets, seagulls and terns.
“We’re not afraid to do it, and not embarrassed to claim responsibility,” she said. ““We want access to the truth. They (BP) claim they pick up carcasses and do tests, but no one gets the results.”
After agreeing to an interview, Darryl Pruett of the BP Community Outreach Center in New Iberia did not return calls or emails.