Can “A Whale” Clean Up the Oil Spill?

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REUTERS/Sean Gardner

It’s 10 stories high and more than three football fields long. It’s called “A Whale,” it’s been called the world’s largest oil-skimming vessel, and BP hopes it can clean up the spill in the Gulf.

The recovery effort’s latest hope is “A Whale,” a giant Taiwanese oil-skimming vessel converted from a cargo ship. “A Whale” swallows water and then separates it, skimming about 21 million gallons of oil every day, which is 250 times as much as the skimmers currently in the Gulf of Mexico. Like an actual whale, it collects water and pumps internally, like a heart. It could be most successful close to the wellhead, where oil is the thickest.

Officials had to wait several days to try “A Whale,” because they wanted the Environmental Protection Agency to test the water the vessel will send back into the Gulf. The delay angered local and state officials affected by the oil slick.

Initial tests of “A Whale” over the weekend were inconclusive, due to rough seas. More typical sea conditions this week will help with future testing.

BP has spent more than $3 billion on containment, cleanup, damage claims and relief well drilling during the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The company has made more than 47,000 payments, totaling almost $147 million.

Scientists have yet to conclusively report the environmental impact of the oil spill. Swarms of analysts have examined the Gulf, and some say the area was spared from major disaster and others say that the spill put undue pressure on already-fragile ecosystems.