Photos: Wildlife Suffer as Oil Spreads

BY Sarah Clune and Lea Winerman  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.

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.”

Close-up: Oiled Egret An oil-stained cattle egret on the deck of the supply vessel Joe Griffin, near the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, May 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Close-up: Oiled Egret
An oil-stained cattle egret on the deck of the supply vessel Joe Griffin, near the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, May 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

On Deck The oil-stained egret sits on a crew swing on the deck of the Joe Griffin, May 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

On Deck
The oil-stained egret sits on a crew swing on the deck of the Joe Griffin, May 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

An Oil-soaked Struggle An oil-soaked bird struggles against the oil slicked side of the HOS Iron Horse supply vessel at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, May 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

An Oil-soaked Struggle
An oil-soaked bird struggles against the oil slicked side of the HOS Iron Horse supply vessel at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, May 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Close-up A close-up of the oil-soaked bird, May 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Close-up
A close-up of the oil-soaked bird, May 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Suffering Bird "It's sad to see animals suffering," photographer Gerald Herbert says, and to "not really [be] in a position to do anything besides photograph." (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Suffering Bird
“It’s sad to see animals suffering,” photographer Gerald Herbert says, and to “not really [be] in a position to do anything besides photograph.” (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Oiled Dragonfly A oiled dragonfly tries to clean itself, in Garden Island Bay on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana near Venice, La., May 18, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Oiled Dragonfly
A oiled dragonfly tries to clean itself, in Garden Island Bay on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana near Venice, La., May 18, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

An Oily Marsh The dragonfly is perched in marsh grass covered in oil, May 18, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

An Oily Marsh
The dragonfly is perched in marsh grass covered in oil, May 18, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Starfish Dead starfish washed ashore on the Chandeleur Islands off the Southeastern coast of Louisiana, home of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, Tuesday, April 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Starfish
Dead starfish washed ashore on the Chandeleur Islands off the Southeastern coast of Louisiana, home of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, Tuesday, April 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Pelican Handoff U.S. Fish and Wildlife officer Raul Sanchez hands off a dead oil-covered pelican to an unidentified Coast Guard personnel after bagging and tagging it as evidence on North Breton Island, La., Thursday, May 20, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Pelican Handoff
U.S. Fish and Wildlife officer Raul Sanchez hands off a dead oil-covered pelican to an unidentified Coast Guard personnel after bagging and tagging it as evidence on North Breton Island, La., Thursday, May 20, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Dead Pelican Coast Guard personnel carry off the dead pelican, May 20, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Dead Pelican
Coast Guard personnel carry off the dead pelican, May 20, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Laughing Gull in Distress U.S. Fish and Wildlife officer Raul Sanchez, right, and Jason Storlie of the USDA Wildlife Services, rescue a laughing gull in distress at the Breton National Wildlife Refuge. They will try to rehabilitate it as well as determine if its illness was due to the oil spill. May 20, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Laughing Gull in Distress
U.S. Fish and Wildlife officer Raul Sanchez, right, and Jason Storlie of the USDA Wildlife Services, rescue a laughing gull in distress at the Breton National Wildlife Refuge. They will try to rehabilitate it as well as determine if its illness was due to the oil spill. May 20, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Catfish A dying catfish that had been picked at by birds floats on the surface of the water in the Breton Sound of the Gulf of Mexico, May 3, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Catfish
A dying catfish that had been picked at by birds floats on the surface of the water in the Breton Sound of the Gulf of Mexico, May 3, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Pelican in View An oil-soaked pelican flies near an absorbent oil boom and boats carrying Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser in Barataria Bay, off the Louisiana coast, May 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Pelican in View
An oil-soaked pelican flies near an absorbent oil boom and boats carrying Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser in Barataria Bay, off the Louisiana coast, May 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Barataria Bay Oil laps at an island in Barataria Bay, just off the coast of Louisiana, that is home to hundreds of brown pelican nests as well at terns, gulls and roseate spoonbills, May 22, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Barataria Bay
Oil laps at an island in Barataria Bay, just off the coast of Louisiana, that is home to hundreds of brown pelican nests as well at terns, gulls and roseate spoonbills, May 22, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Oil Comes Ashore Clumps of oil wash ashore on the island in Barataria Bay, May 22, 2010. "I think we were all lulled into a sense of false hope that the oil maybe would just stay off shore," photographer Gerald Herbert says. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Oil Comes Ashore
Clumps of oil wash ashore on the island in Barataria Bay, May 22, 2010. “I think we were all lulled into a sense of false hope that the oil maybe would just stay off shore,” photographer Gerald Herbert says. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Dying Heron A young heron sits dying amidst oil splatters on an island in Barataria Bay, May 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Dying Heron
A young heron sits dying amidst oil splatters on an island in Barataria Bay, May 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Young Heron, Dying "I'm out there to show the rest of the world what's going on," photographer Gerald Herbert says. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Young Heron, Dying
“I’m out there to show the rest of the world what’s going on,” photographer Gerald Herbert says. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Pelicans and Roseate Spoonbill Pelicans and a roseate spoonbill fly over nesting birds on an island in Barataria Bay, May 23, 2010, in the path of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Pelicans and Roseate Spoonbill
Pelicans and a roseate spoonbill fly over nesting birds on an island in Barataria Bay, May 23, 2010, in the path of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Trying to Stop the Oil A Plaquemines Parish employee lays oil-absorbing boom as pelicans leave their nests on an island in Barataria Bay, May 22, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Trying to Stop the Oil
A Plaquemines Parish employee lays oil-absorbing boom as pelicans leave their nests on an island in Barataria Bay, May 22, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Pelican Leaves its Nest A pelican leaves its nest as oil hits the shore of an island in Barataria Bay, May 22, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Pelican Leaves its Nest
A pelican leaves its nest as oil hits the shore of an island in Barataria Bay, May 22, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Island in Oil A worker walks along the coast of an island that is home to hundreds of brown pelican nests as well at terns, gulls and roseate spoonbills, May 22, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Island in Oil
A worker walks along the coast of an island that is home to hundreds of brown pelican nests as well at terns, gulls and roseate spoonbills, May 22, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

An Unsuccessful Capture Attempt A Louisiana Fish and Wildlife officer walks near an oil-soaked boom as he tries unsuccessfully to corral on oil-soaked pelican in Barataria Bay, May 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

An Unsuccessful Capture Attempt
A Louisiana Fish and Wildlife officer walks near an oil-soaked boom as he tries unsuccessfully to corral on oil-soaked pelican in Barataria Bay, May 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Oil-soaked Pelican An oil-soaked pelican on an island in Barataria Bay just off the the coast of Louisiana, May 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Oil-soaked Pelican
An oil-soaked pelican on an island in Barataria Bay just off the the coast of Louisiana, May 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Pelicans Oil-stained pelicans stand on an island in Barataria Bay just off the the coast of Louisiana, May 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Pelicans
Oil-stained pelicans stand on an island in Barataria Bay just off the the coast of Louisiana, May 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Taking Flight An oil-stained pelican leaves its nest as oil washes ashore on an island in Barataria Bay, May 22, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Taking Flight
An oil-stained pelican leaves its nest as oil washes ashore on an island in Barataria Bay, May 22, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Trying to Escape An oil-soaked pelican takes flight after Louisiana Fish and Wildlife employees tried to corral him on an island in Barataria Bay, May 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Trying to Escape
An oil-soaked pelican takes flight after Louisiana Fish and Wildlife employees tried to corral him on an island in Barataria Bay, May 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Oiled Eggs Pelican eggs that appear to be stained with oil sit in a nest on an island in Barataria Bay, May 22, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Oiled Eggs
Pelican eggs that appear to be stained with oil sit in a nest on an island in Barataria Bay, May 22, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Oiled Eggs Another view of the oiled pelican eggs, May 23, 2010, as birds circle above. “The sounds of life are so overwhelming," photographer Gerald Herbert says. "The gulf is really teaming with life. And you don't realize it until you spend some time in it.” (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Oiled Eggs
Another view of the oiled pelican eggs, May 23, 2010, as birds circle above. “The sounds of life are so overwhelming,” photographer Gerald Herbert says. “The gulf is really teaming with life. And you don’t realize it until you spend some time in it.” (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)