Oil spill threatens toothy marine predator

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Washington, May 28 (ANI): The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico threatens the existence of a toothy marine predator that has been recognised as America's cultural and historic icon, according to a University of Florida researcher.

The largetooth sawfish, a popular curio item known for its sawlike snout, was proposed as a federally endangered species on May 7, less than three weeks after massive amounts of oil started gushing into Gulf waters, pointed out George Burgess, a UF ichthyologist and sawfish expert.

He said: "The oil spill will not only have very dire effects on such highly visible creatures as seabirds and dolphins, but also threatens a multitude of bottom-dwelling organisms including the smalltooth sawfish, which already is in considerable trouble as its range diminished and its numbers dwindled."

What's left of the smalltooth sawfish population is confined to the lower peninsula of Florida, Burgess said, with the most important area ranging from Charlotte Harbor through the Ten Thousand Islands area of the Everglades into Florida Bay and the Keys.

That's where the largest portion of its nurseries is found and these are now threatened by the oil spill, he said.

Burgess said: "As oil gets caught up in the loop current, it will be pulled down into the Gulf Stream, which goes right by Key West on its way up the U.S. East Coast.

"The opportunities for serious ecological problems are mind boggling, with dire implications for what' left of that species in the northwest Atlantic Ocean if the oil reaches critical mangrove habitat."

The largetooth sawfish, which was most common in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico, has not been encountered in decades.

Its close relative, the smalltooth sawfish, was listed as an endangered species in 2003 and survives in the U.S. only at the southern tip of Florida.

Conservationists had hoped conditions would become favourable for both sawfish species eventually to stage a comeback in Gulf waters, Burgess said.

Far more common to South and Central America, the largetooth sawfish migrated up the Central American coast during the summer into the Gulf, the edge of its natural geographic range, he said.

Burgess said: "If important underwater habitat is destroyed, neither species will have a place to return to.

"They can't come back to an underwater desert." (ANI)

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