Zoo hosts film, panel on Deepwater Horizon disaster

Experts to talk about oil spill's impact on marine wildlife

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By ANTHONY LANDAHL

Contributing Reporter

On June 18 at 7 p.m., the Brookfield Zoo will screen the 2017 documentary film "Dispatches from the Gulf 2." The film recounts the efforts of scientists studying the effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill on marine life in the Gulf of Mexico. 

A panel discussion with leading marine mammal experts will take place after the one-hour documentary is shown. 

Dr. Randall Wells, vice president of the marine mammal conservation and director of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program (SDRP) for the Chicago Zoological Society, will moderate the panel. 

Based in Sarasota, Florida, the SDRP is the world's longest-running study of a wild dolphin population. 

One portion of "Dispatches from the Gulf 2" covers scientists analyzing the bottlenose dolphin population in the Gulf of Mexico and how the spill, one of the largest environmental disasters in U.S history, affected pregnant dolphins. 

Among the scientists on the panel is Dr. Cynthia Smith, who is featured in the film assessing bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico following the spill. These are also the same type of dolphins found at the Brookfield Zoo. 

According to Leah Rippe, the zoo's vicepresident of marketing and communications, the SDRP has been monitoring bottlenose dolphins in the Sarasota Bay for multiple decades through photographic identification surveys and health assessments. 

The database the program has accumulated over the years serves as a comparative set of results for investigations of significant environmental events, similar to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

"Because the [Deepwater Horizon] oil did not reach Sarasota, these dolphins and the SDRP's long-term data were selected by NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] to play a large role in the investigation to assess the impact on the dolphins in Louisiana and Mississippi," Rippe said. 

Beyond just animal exhibits and interactions, Rippe said events like these should promote the idea that the public should care about the animal kingdom beyond the gates of the zoo. 

"Our task is to empower our guests to drive positive environmental change," Rippe said. "Lectures and panel discussions are one way that we can more deeply engage guests and members in zoo topics of interest." 

Rippe said the zoo will continue to explore opportunities to screen documentaries for the public that align with its 2019–23 strategic plan.

Tickets cost $16 ($12 for zoo members). Register can go to CZS.org/Lecture.

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