Jesse Smith fears that footage and photos of oil-covered animals obscure the true horror of oil spills:

The image of the oil-soaked bird isn't powerful because it suggests the threat to the species, and the food chain, and the entire ecosystem. It's powerful because it's a bird, and it's covered in oil, and you know it doesn't want to be, and that it may be in pain, and that it is, at the very least, terrified. A dirty or dead bird or turtle or shark or fish is proof that an oil spill is bad news; if they weren't, the Los Angeles Times and the Sacramento Bee and CBS News and others wouldn't be working so hard to shoehorn them into their coverage.

Would an oil spill that lacked these oily animals be any less dangerous? No, but to know that you'd have to motivate your brain to read science news and dissect the infographics and maps. This is hard work. Pictures are easier. You see a dead turtle, and your heart thinks it understands just how bad this situation is. And if you don't, well, how bad can things be?

More images of injured and dead wildlife here.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to