Atlantic Bluefin Tuna & the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

On April 20, 2010, an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling platform in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico set off what would become the worst oil spill in U.S. history. The Gulf of Mexico is the major spawning ground of the western Atlantic bluefin tuna population, and TAG research has demonstrated that bluefin tuna visit the spill location (Figure 1). April and May are the peak spawning months in the Gulf of Mexico so the spill could not have happened at a worst time for bluefin.

Figure 1. Spring 2009 tag track of an Atlantic bluefin tuna tagged in Port Hood, Nova Scotia in October 2008 overlaid on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill area as of May 24, 2010. Credit: Tag-A-Giant.

There is concern that the spill will adversely impact the success of the 2010 spawn by harming eggs, larvae and even adults (see TAG oil spill fact sheet for details). Long-term impacts for 2011 and beyond are even more difficult to predict, but Tag-A-Giant scientists are working with the U.S. government and other scientists to try to assess potential consequences of the spill relative to Atlantic bluefin tuna. With over a decade of scientific research on bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico, TAG is well poised to partner in this effort. Coincientally, a paper on TAG's research in the Gulf of Mexico was published on May 28th in the scientific journal, PLoS ONE (Figure 2).

This webpage will serve as a clearinghouse of information on TAG research in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as impact assessments of the oil spill on bluefin tuna. Check back regularly for updates.


Figure 2. Colors show the expected probability of catching bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico based on fisheries data and tagging studies (red is high probability, blue is low). Illustrates discrete bluefin tuna spawning hotspots in the eastern and western GOM. Credit: PLoS ONE, Teo and Block, 2010.

Figure 3. Observed locations of bluefin tuna based on fisheries data and tagging studies, mapping the bluefin tuna spawning ground in the Gulf of Mexico. Credit: Nature, Block et al., 2005.

Fact Sheet
TAG, Bluefin Tuna & the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill




TAG Gulf of Mexico Publications

Teo, SLH and BA Block. 2010. Comparative influence of ocean conditions on yellowfin and Atlantic bluefin tuna catch from longlines in the Gulf of Mexico. PLoS ONE 5: e10756. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0010756. Link to PRESS RELEASEFull Text, or PDF.

Weng, KC, M Stokesbury, A Boustany, A Seitz, S Teo, S Miller, and BA Block. 2009. Habitat and behaviour of yellowfin tuna Thunnus albacares in the Gulf of Mexico determined using pop-up satellite archival tags. Journal of Fish Biology 74: 1434–1449. Link to Full Text.

Teo, SLH, A Boustany, and BA Block. 2007. Oceanographic preferences of Atlantic bluefin tuna, Thunnus thynnus, on their Gulf of Mexico breeding grounds. Marine Biology 152:1105–1119. Link to Full Text.

Teo S.L.H., Boustany, A. Dewar, H., Stokesbury, M.J.W., Weng, K.C., Beemer, S., Seitz, A.C., Farwell, C.J., Prince, E.D. and B. A. Block. 2007. Annual migrations, diving behavior, and thermal biology of Atlantic bluefin tuna, Thunnus thynnus, on their Gulf of Mexico breeding grounds. Marine Biology 151:1-18. Link to Full Text.

Block, BA, SLH Teo, A Walli, A Boustany, MJW Stokesbury, CJ Farwell, KC Weng, H Dewar & TD Williams. 2005. Electronic tagging and population structure of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna. Nature 434: 1121-1127. Link to Full Text, or Supplement.



TAG scientist Dr. Steve Wilson tags a 700-lb bluefin tuna in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Nova Scotia, Canada in October 2008; the fish migrated into the Gulf of Mexico to spawn last spring.

TAG In the Gulf of Mexico News

June 23, 2010: Endangered-Species Status Is Sought for Bluefin Tuna, New York Times

June 21, 2010: Tuna's End, New York Times Magazine

June 18, 2010: Scientists: Gulf oil spill threatens breeding ground for bluefin tuna, McClatchy

June 11, 2010: Gulf leak: biggest spill may not be biggest disaster, New Scientist

June 7, 2010: Oil Spill Comes at Worst Time for Endangered Bluefin Tuna, Inter Press Service

June 7, 2010: Oil spill's environmental costs, Toronto Sun

May 31, 2010: Spawning Habitat of Bluefin Tuna in Gulf of Mexico: Critical Area Intersects Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Science Daily

May 28, 2010: Bluefin Tuna Spawning Mid-Spill Right Now, Mother Jones

May 26, 2010: BP oil spill: how Gulf's sensitive and endangered species are faring, Christian Science Monitor

May 24, 2010: Oil dispersants an environmental ‘crapshoot’, MSNBC

May 13, 2010: Bluefin Tuna Particularly Vulnerable to Gulf of Mexico Oil Leak, The Times-Picayune

April 30, 2010: Already Imperiled Bluefin Tuna Threatened by Spill, AOL News