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Oil skimmer A Whale gets some tweaks in bid to work the BP oil spill

Oil skimmer from abroad, the mega ship A Whale, has not yet shown how well it can collect oil, because of continued rough seas. At least it's been out on the water near the site of the BP oil spill, while other skimmers were docked.

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At work, the crew is making technical tweaks in a bid to improve the ship's oil collection in rough seas. Though the A Whale's huge dimensions allow it to ride out rough waters, its size could also be a detriment as the super-skimmer vies for a spot on the response team. Oil from the spill is widely dispersed, and so those in charge of the response are ramping up the numbers – not necessarily the size – of vessels, aiming to put 750 skimming vessels to work by mid-July.

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To date, skimmers have collected more than 671,000 barrels (28.2 million gallons) of oil and water mix from the Gulf. Between 2 million and 4 million barrels of crude are believed to have leaked into the Gulf already.

Whether or not it succeeds in the Gulf, the A Whale shows that a host of new ideas are emerging to try to contain major deepwater spills, says Dennis Bryant, a former Coast Guard officer and now a maritime consultant in Gainesville, Fla.

"The increased focus on research and development in oil-spill response is long overdue," says Mr. Bryant. "The other thing that's going to happen is that the amount of response resouces that are kept stockpiled in the United States will increase. Right after the Exxon Valdez accident [in Alaska in 1989], the response capability of this country ramped up rapidly and then slowly dropped over time because we weren't having big spills. Now we have a big spill and we've discovered that we don't have the necessary boom and skimmers."

IN PICTURES: The Gulf oil spill's impact on nature