Chronic Oiling from the Jacob Luckenbach in central California 2003
[back to top]
PRBO's Historical Involvement in Oil Spill Response
Since the 1971 San Francisco Bay oil spill, PRBO has been involved in many aspects of oil spill response, including:
(1) Initiating and conducting the Beached Bird Project (1971-1986), collecting comprehensive information for the first time on beached birds in the Pacific,
(2) Conducting the Farallon Oiled Bird Survey since 1977, in which oiled wildlife observations on the Farallon Islands are documented daily; and
(3) providing depositions that helped obtain a court settlements to mitigate for damaged seabird populations.
In 1994, under contract with the California Department of Fish and Game Office of Spill Prevention and Response, PRBO developed standardized protocols for oiled wildlife processing. This involves documentation of live or dead birds collected during an oil spill event. PRBO trains and manages a team of personnel (Wildlife Processing Unit) under the Oiled Wildlife Care Network capable of rapid response during to oil pollution events in the State of California. This team is prepared and on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to respond to oil spill evens of all sizes in California. Wildlife processing requires expertise in species identification, high quality data documentation (of degree and extent of oiling), feather sampling and photo documentation, and an understanding of the crucial importance of this data in determining effects of an oil spill on wildlife. In the case when there is a "responsible party" for a spill event, this data is used as evidence if there is a trial, and is also crucial for estimating the total mortality related to that spill (this is important for the ecological damage assessment made after a spill). PRBO and its Wildlife Processing team have responded to a number of California oil spills since the team's inception in 1994. These spills have varied in magnitude and were from a range of sources, from the offshore oil platform Torch, to the active tanker Command, to the chronic leak from the sunken S.S. Jacob Luckenbach.
Catastrophic Oil Spill off the Spanish Coast
--PRBO sends two biologists
By Diana Humple
On November 13, 2002, the tanker Prestige, containing twice the quantity of oil as Exxon Valdez, began leaking off the coast of Spain. In a week the ship split in two and sank to the ocean floor, where it continues to leak its contents. The catastrophic scale of this spill was likely due to the decision to tow the cracked and vulnerable ship into rough seas instead of granting it safe harbor, where the oil could have been contained. Hundreds of kilometers of coastline were oiled, some by a 35x65km slick. The fishing industry, crucial to the Galician economy (the coastal state hit hardest), has been shut down and its future jeopardized.
Because of PRBO's expertise in oil spill response, we offered assistance and were immediately asked to participate. Christine Abraham and I joined a British biologist and a team from the University of La Coruña (Spain) in species identification, documentation and dissections of dead oiled birds; without such efforts, effects of spills on seabird populations are unknown. In many cases, documentation is also crucial to holding the responsible parties legally accountable and to ultimately make it in their interest to practice safer shipping practices.
In the first month over 2000 birds were collected (and this will likely continuing for months, even years, to come). Primary birds affected include Razorbill, Atlantic Puffin, Shag, Northern Gannet, Common Murre, and Yellow-legged Gull. While long-term effects are unknown, the consequences may be severe, especially for species (e.g., Puffin) where mostly adults, already of breeding age, were affected.
PRBO's response was possible thanks to the generous donations by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Flora Family Foundation, and an individual donor, John Wagnitz.
For more information on the Prestige Oil Spill, view the websites of BirdLife International to learn more about on the effects of the catastrophic oil spill off the northwest coast of Spain.