Gallons of oil-fouled water that officials hope a Taiwanese tanker named Whale can skim from the gulf. The ship, the world's largest oil-skimming vessel, is the length of 3-1/2 football fields and stands 10 stories high. The ship looks like a typical tanker, but it takes in contaminated water through 12 vents on either side of the bow. The oil is then supposed to be separated from the water and transferred to another vessel. The water is channeled back into the sea. As with many things with this spill, the ship has never been tested, and many questions remain about how it will operate. For instance, the seawater retains trace amounts of oil, even after getting filtered, so the EPA will have to sign off on allowing the treated water back into the gulf.
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"Taking mouthfuls of thick oil is not conducive to them surviving."
Eric Hoffmayer, of the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Lab, said of endangered whale sharks, such as the one above, seen swimming through wide streamers of heavy oil a few miles from BP's spewing well. "That basically confirms our worst fear: these animals do not know to stay away from the oil," Hoffmayer said. The huge fish feed by vacuuming the sea surface. Oil can clog their gills and suffocate them as they swim at the surface, and they will swallow oil if they feed in it, said John Carlson, fisheries biologist in NOAA's wildlife section. Nobody knows just how many whale sharks exist. They're on the World Conservation Union's "red list" of threatened species.