Each night, when I watch the local news in Sarasota, Florida, I become even more apprehensive about the BP oil spill. I feel an urgent need to see the local beaches before they’re ruined. I moved here seven months ago, and, so far, my only glimpses of them have been on television. Almost every night, reporters interview local residents and tourists at the beach, asking them if they’re worried about the oil reaching Florida. And every night, they ask local fishermen and seafood restaurants if they are suffering because of the oil spill. While I feel sad about the beaches and bad for the people who make their living from tourism, without harming animals, I have no sympathy for the fishermen. I’m tired of hearing how “unfortunate” it is that they can’t kill the fish if the oil kills them first. I’m concerned about the fish for the fishes’ sake. They are the ones who are really suffering.
Can you imagine trying to swim through a never-ending glob of oil, without enough oxygen? Marine scientists now say that fish and other wildlife are fleeing the oil and clustering in cleaner waters along the coast, where there will ultimately be more competition for oxygen; they can be easily devoured by predators; and, perhaps worst of all, they can easily be caught by fishermen. One of the saddest accounts I’ve read since the oil rig explosion is in the June 17 Associated Press report about the exodus:
“The migration of fish away from the oil spill can be good news for some coastal residents. Tom Sabo has been fishing off Panama City, Fla., for years, and he’s never seen the fishing better or the water any clearer than it was last weekend 16 to 20 miles off the coast. His fishing spot was far enough east that it wasn’t affected by the pollution or federal restrictions, and it’s possible that his huge catch of red snapper, grouper, king mackerel and amberjack was a result of fish fleeing the spill.“
After what has surely been a harrowing experience for the fish, who are doing all they can to survive and reach safe waters, I can’t think of a crueler, more heart-wrenching end. With such callous, selfish behavior, it seems these sentient beings are better off dying in the oxygen-depleted waters than onboard fishing vessels or on fishing hooks. Great options.
I’ve heard enough sympathetic news stories about the fishing industry. It’s time we focus on the real victims of the oil spill—birds, fish, turtles, crabs, dolphins, whales, and other marine animals. The first dead whale—a sperm whale—was recently found floating 77 miles south of the oil spill in the Gulf. While experts aren’t yet certain if exposure to oil caused the whale’s death, I don’t think any of us would be surprised if it did.
We may not think of this catastrophe as cruelty to animals in the same way that we think of kicking a dog as cruelty to animals, but, it is essentially, as PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk points out, the largest case of cruelty to animals in U.S. history. And BP should be charged with cruelty to animals if the criminal investigation turns up willful fraud and negligence.
Because more than anyone else, animals are suffering because of the spill.