The Future of Wildlife After The Gulf Oil Spill

A few days ago, I received a message in my Inbox titled, “In Memory of Sea Turtles and Dolphins.” Just reading the title made me sick to my stomach, but I opened the email anyways. For the past few years, I’d felt especially close to dolphins. It all started one summer, when I foolishly hopped in the car with my boyfriend to travel across the country. After less than a week of exploring, we found ourselves on Virginia Beach. Little did I know that during an afternoon of sand and shore, the day’s record heat would give me the worst sunburn I’ve ever experienced.

The burn didn’t show up until early evening and covered my entire body. To make matters worse, we were camping. That night, when we got back to the campground, I stayed in the stuffy tent while my boyfriend drove to the store to get some aloe. As I waited, I tried to ignore my burning skin by thinking about our exciting plans for the next morning: we were going to catch a glimpse of the dolphins after sunrise.

Over an hour passed before he returned. I’m no brain scientist, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t take a hour to find aloe on Virginia Beach. The truth is, my boyfriend was a pretty bad alcoholic, although at the time he denied it by saying “everyone drinks in college.”

I can only guess by the way he refused to wake up early enough to see the dolphins the following morning, that he’d likely stopped at a bar to pound a few beers before coming back with the aloe.

We did go to the shore, however; it was just much later in the morning than planned. We walked along the boardwalk for over an hour and closely scrutinized each wave for fins. Then my boyfriend said he saw one but didn’t point it out for me to see it too. I was very upset by this. I’d never seen a dolphin, and now, not only had I still never seen a dolphin, but now I almost saw a dolphin and missed it, which is much worse. He thought it was funny.

Today is the one-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig catastrophe which occurred last year in the Gulf of Mexico and killed 11 men and continues to kill countless sea life and animals. One year later, those in power would like us to believe that everything is fine and back to normal in the Gulf, when in reality, it is not. It doesn’t matter how many commercials they put on TV telling me to “come on down to the Gulf” and try some of “our tasty Gulf shrimp.” All I can think about is the indisputable fact that the dolphin and sea turtle populations continue suffer.  Since the oil spill, mass deaths of these species rose drasticly.

The Huffington Post reported that during this year alone over 200 bottle nosed dolphins (half infants and stillborns) washed ashore dead. This is roughly 14 times the typical amount of dolphin carcasses found on average in previous years during the calving season.

There was also a record number of sea turtle deaths, that like dolphin deaths, transpired immediately after the spill. Within the first month of the oil spill, 150 dead sea turtles washed ashore in Texas alone. That number continues to climb as Gulf Coast residents continue to report and discover an astronomical amount of dead and injured sea turtles and dolphins.

Knowing this, I was compelled to I click on a link in my email. It brought me to an online “adoption center” that urged me to make a donation by adopting a sea turtle or sea turtle family.

Defenders of Wildlife Sea Turtle Adoption Page

And then on the next page, the Defenders of Wildlife urged me to donate and adopt a dolphin or pod.

Defenders of Wildlife Dolphin Adoption Page

I was truly conflicted.  I didn’t know who to adopt.  For the past few years, I’ve felt a special connection to dolphins.  I loved dolphins, but most people probably loved dolphins too (who wouldn’t?). I feared that donors might give all their love to the dolphins,  and consequently, the sea turtles would receive less donations. In the end, I decided to “adopt” a sea turtle, but plan on “adopting” a dolphin next month.

Things continued to go downhill after leaving Virginia Beach. Not long after the trip, my boyfriend and I broke up in a truly horrible scene.  I swear to you, it was the stuff that Lifetime Movies are made of. I had pneumonia and could barely function. He hadn’t bothered to visit me or even send a card, and then all within the same day,  I awoke one morning and found the windows of my truck smashed in, then learned he’d been cheating.

For the next few months, I felt betrayed. At the very least, I thought he was a friend, and had trouble grasping the violence and deception that occurred.  Each time I thought about Virginia Beach, and how he taunted me and laughed about seeing the dolphin when I hadn’t,  I felt bitter. Surprisingly, it was productive; my bitterness gave me the strength to move on. The truth is, I’d always doubted that he actually saw a dolphin that day.

Still, it was a really dark time in my life in which I was ill, single, unemployed, freshly rejected from MFA programs, and unaware that I was about to step foot into one of the most important journeys of my life. In the midst of my grief, I woke up one morning after having the most beautiful dream.

I was on a cruise ship. It was early in the morning, and I walked onto the deck alone where I experienced the most beautiful sunrise I’d ever seen.  I looked over the ship’s railing and was elated when I saw a shimmering ocean full of hundreds, maybe thousands of beautiful dolphins. I began to feel renewed and hopeful for the future.

If you would like to make a donation by “adopting” a sea turtle or dolphin (or would like to give an adopted animal as a gift), please check out the Defenders of Wildlife’s website.

It is most important that we be mindful of the welfare of these animals and others. It may seem like a big responsibility, but we cannot ignore it. We are their only voice.

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