Researchers at the University of Miami were able to show that when larval mahi-mahi were exposed to oil collected from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, they lost their breakaway zip. Young fish exposed for 48 hours demonstrated a 37 percent decrease in swim speeds. Those exposed for just 24 hours showed a 22 percent dip.
"The worry is that if you have reduced swimming performance you're going to be less effective at capturing prey, and less effective in avoiding [predators]," explained Martin Grosell, a professor of ichthyology at Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.
Ichthyology is the field of biology devoted to the study of fish.
"The study demonstrates how careful measurements of physiological performance may reveal subtle, yet highly significant impacts of environmental contamination," added Grosell.
The colorful specimens, also known as dolphinfish, aren't the only species potentially slowed by a coat of oil; research suggests the oil might similarly slow other large fish species, such as tunas, amberjack, swordfish, and billfish.
BP spokesman Ryan Jason discounted the implications of the new research: "The study does not provide any evidence to show that an effect on that group of fish would have had a population-level impact."
The study was published this week in the early online edition of the journal Environmental Science and Technology.