True extent of BP oil disaster is lurking below
Streaming video of oil pouring from the seafloor and images of dead, crude-soaked birds serve as visual bookends to the natural calamity unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. But independent scientists say another disaster is playing out in slow motion -- and out of public view -- in the mysterious depths between the gusher and the coast, a world inhabited by sperm whales, gigantic jellyfish and diminutive plankton.
Six weeks after the BP spill began, the disaster's dimensions have come into sharper focus with government estimates that more than 18 million gallons of oil, and possibly 40 million gallons, have already poured from the leaking well. That would eclipse what had been the worst US oil spill -- the 11 million gallons released during the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill.
"Every fish and invertebrate contacting the oil is probably dying. I have no doubt about that," said Prosanta Chakrabarty, a Louisiana State University fish biologist.