Happy 25th Anniversary to the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Those were some good times. What did biologists discover from it? That the oil industry is horrible for wildlife:
Scientists had traditionally believed that oil basically had to cover an animal or embryo to hurt it. But the evidence they saw in Alaska suggested it didn’t take much oil to do a lot of damage. And that damage could manifest in different ways.
For example, oil under rocks and in sediments contaminated clams that sea otters ate. It didn’t kill the otters outright: Wildlife biologist Dan Esler of the U.S. Geological Survey says it shortened otters’ lives and suppressed the population for 20 years.
“The understanding that lingering oil could have chronic effects on wildlife populations was a new and important finding, and one that we did not anticipate at the time that we started the research,” Esler says.
Through years of research, scientists discovered another unexpected effect, this time related to fish eggs. The clue came from pink salmon, which weren’t doing well even years after the spill. To figure out why, Rice’s team exposed pink salmon embryos to tiny amounts of oil.
“We were dosing them with oil that you couldn’t see [and] you couldn’t smell. But we were doing it for a really long time,” Rice says. “And six months later, they had abnormalities.”
Rice says it was one of the many “wows” that came from his years heading up a NOAA team researching the spill’s effects.
But hey, I’m sure everything is back to normal in the Gulf after the BP spill and that we should continue right on drilling like nothing ever happened.