Photos: Wildlife Suffer as Oil Spreads

BY sclw  May 26, 2010 at 4:00 PM EDT

For AP photographer Gerald Herbert, the story of the oil spill in the Gulf is personal.

A New Orleans native, he worked for years out of Washington, D.C., covering Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. But just after he returned to his hometown, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded. Since then, his photos have traced the evolution of the disaster.

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He took pictures of the original explosion from helicopters and boats. Then he pointed his camera at the fishermen.

“When they couldn’t get their boats in the water and they had to stop fishing,” he says. “The looks of concern on their faces, and their worry, was very profound and very real.”

Now he’s documenting the spill’s impact on wildlife. He says there was “a sense of false relief going on because this oil didn’t touch shore for quite a long time. And then all of a sudden one day, everyone woke up and there it was, it was on the shores and it changed everyone’s mood incredibly.”

His images have been widely published since the April 26 explosion — including an oil-covered bird trying to gain refuge on the HOS Iron Horse supply vessel; a dragonfly whose wings are coated in oil; and a dying baby heron sitting in a pool of oil.

The heron image stuck with him: “As I was shooting it [he was] making his last movements. His wing just kind of lowered to the ground and stopped. And that was it. It was pretty sad to see, a defenseless little animal like that.”

What his photos don’t convey, Herbert said, was the vibrant ecosystem of the Gulf region. “The sounds of life are so overwhelming. The Gulf is really teeming with life. And you don’t realize it until you spend some time in it.”