Researcher to Study Oil Spill Impact on Small Fish, Shrimp

The study involving marine life living in deep water will get underway in September.


By Vickie Chachere News Manager


St. Petersburg, Fla. (June 23, 2010) - University of South Florida Marine Biologist Jose Torres has received funding from the National Science Foundation to launch a study on the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and chemical dispersants on populations of small fish and crustaceans who live in the middle depths of the Gulf of Mexico.


The small creatures are an important food source for larger fish such as tuna, sailfish, and mahi-mahi and marine mammals, such as dolphin. Because the small fish and crustaceans spend their nights near the surface of the gulf and their days down to about 1,000 meters depth, their daily migrations  in the water column make interaction with  plumes of subsurface oil and chemical dispersants likely, Torres said. That exposure could have major effects on the organisms, he added.


Torres received $147,696 grant from the NSF’s Rapid Response Research program to conduct the study later this summer. Tentative plans are for a research cruise to obtain samples from the shore to the deep waters of the gulf in September aboard the R/V Weatherbird II.


“The animals I am concerned with are the small fishes and shrimp that live in the deep water,” Torres said. “We know their daily routine includes migration from 600 to 800 meters deep to the surface. If we have subsurface plumes, they are going right through them.”

Torres’ lab studies the physiology and ecology of pelagic species – fish, crustaceans and other organisms which live in the middle-depths of the open ocean – and has developed expertise in understanding how life at great depth, including low temperature and sometimes low oxygen levels, affect these key players in ocean food webs.

Torres recently returned from a seven-week research voyage through the Antarctic where he studied the dramatic decline of a key fish in that environment’s food web. His expedition was chronicled in the St. Petersburg Times multimedia project Detectives in Antarctica.

Vickie Chachere can be reached at 813-974-6251.