Independent scientists and government officials say there's a disaster we can't see in the Gulf of Mexico's mysterious depths, the ruin of a world inhabited by enormous sperm whales and tiny, invisible plankton.
Researchers have said they have found at least two massive underwater plumes of what appears to be oil, each hundreds of feet deep and stretching for miles. Yet the chief executive of BP PLC – which has for weeks downplayed everything from the amount of oil spewing into the Gulf to the environmental impact – said there is "no evidence" that huge amounts of oil are suspended undersea.
"Every fish and invertebrate contacting the oil is probably dying. I have no doubt about that," said Prosanta Chakrabarty, a Louisiana State University fish biologist.
Recent discoveries of endangered sea turtles soaked in oil and 22 dolphins found dead in the spill zone only hint at the scope of a potential calamity that could last years and unravel the Gulf's food web.
"There's a school of thought that says we've made it worse because of the dispersants," said Larry McKinney, director of the Harte Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.