Thursday, May 13, 2010

Oil spill worries shark research scientist

Nick Whitney admired the two juvenile female nurse sharks lolling around in a 40,000-gallon tank at Mote Marine Laboratory's Center for Shark Research.

"Incredibly beautiful to look at," said the 32-year-old Bradenton, Fla., resident.

Yet there was concern in his voice.

A post-doctoral scientist and specialist in shark behavioral ecology, Whitney is worried about the ongoing oil spill off Louisiana.

If it ever gets pulled into the Gulf of Mexico's loop current, it would catastrophically affect the nurse shark population in the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas where Whitney and others have spent years of research.

"Mating season is coming up in a month, mid-June, early July," Whitney said. "If the Keys are hit by the oil spill at that time, it could be devastating - and not only to this coastline. These animals come into shallow waters to mate in large mating aggregations. It could destroy mating season for an entire year, which could be a huge hit to the population."

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