Exxon Valdez oil found in tidal feeding grounds of ducks, sea otters

May 16, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Seventeen years after the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska's Prince William Sound, compelling new evidence suggests that remnants of the worst oil spill in U.S. history extend farther into tidal waters than previously thought, increasing the probability that the oil is causing unanticipated long-term harm to wildlife. The finding appears today on the Web site of the American Chemical Society's journal, Environmental Science & Technology. The study, by research chemist Jeffrey Short and colleagues at the National Marine Fisheries Service in Juneau, Alaska, is also scheduled to appear in the June 15 print issue of the journal.

"This study shows that it is very plausible that exposure to Exxon Valdez oil is having a material impact on many shore-dwelling animals and is contributing to their slow recovery in some parts of Prince William Sound," Short says. "Sea otters, for instance, have yet to re-inhabit Herring Bay, the most oiled bay we studied, and the population of otters elsewhere around northern Knight Island continues to decline. Unfortunately, because much of this oil is buried in beach sediments and not exposed to weathering and other elements that might degrade it, it could remain hazardous to wildlife for decades."

The Exxon Valdez stuck an underwater rock formation on March 24, 1989, spilling 11 million gallons of heavy crude oil into the Sound over the next several days. Despite massive clean-up efforts, Short estimates about six miles of shoreline is still affected by the spill and as much as 100 tons of oil lingers in the Sound.

In their study, Short and his colleagues found significant amounts of Exxon Valdez oil buried in sand and silt that only becomes dry during the lowest tides. This biologically diverse zone is a prime feeding ground for sea otters, ducks and other wildlife.

Previously, scientists believed most of the oil was deposited on beaches at higher tide levels.>

The researchers randomly dug 662 pits along 32 stretches of shoreline on northern Knight Island, one of the earliest and worst affected areas during the spill. They found Exxon Valdez oil at 14 of the 32 sites. Although oil was spread throughout the tidal range, about half of it was found in the low tide zone, where predators could encounter it while searching for prey. More than 90 percent of the surface oil and all of the subsurface oil was from the Exxon Valdez, Short says.

Based on these findings, the researchers estimated that in a given year, a sea otter -- digging three pits a day searching for clams and other prey -- would probably come into contact with Exxon Valdez oil at least once every two months. However, sea otters dig thousands of pits a year, and Short suspects they actually could be encountering oil far more often than estimated.
-end-
The American Chemical Society -- the world's largest scientific society -- is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

-- Doug Dollemore

The online version of the research paper cited above was initially published May 16 on the journal's Web site. Journalists can arrange access to this site by sending an e-mail to newsroom@acs.org or calling the contact person for this release.

American Chemical Society

Related Oil Articles from Brightsurf:

The first battle for oil in Norway
The world's richest man and the world's largest oil company dominated the petroleum market in Norway long before landmark finds on the Norwegian continental shelf and the Norwegian oil fund.

Oil droplet predators chase oil droplet prey
Oil droplets can be made to act like predators, chasing down other droplets that flee like prey mimicking behavior seen among living organisms.

Healthy oil from wild olives
The oil from wild olive trees has excellent sensorial, physicochemical and stability characteristics from a nutritional point of view, according to an article published in the journal Antioxidants.

Oil-soluble transition metal-based catalysts tested for in-situ oil upgrading
The results of the study showed that the good catalytic properties of the new transition metal catalysts, as well as their low cost and easy accessibility, make them a potential solution in the aquathermolysis reaction and heavy oil recovery.

New method for removing oil from water
Oil poses a considerable danger to aquatic life. Researchers at the Universities of Bonn and Aachen and the Heimbach-GmbH have developed a new technology for the removal of such contaminations: Textiles with special surface properties passively skim off the oil and move it into a floating container.

A sustainable alternative to crude oil
A research team from the Fraunhofer Society and the Technical University of Munich (TUM) led by chemist Volker Sieber has developed a new polyamide family which can be produced from a byproduct of cellulose production -- a successful example for a more sustainable economy with bio-based materials.

When grown right, palm oil can be sustainable
Turning an abandoned pasture into a palm tree plantation can be carbon neutral, according to a new study by EPFL and the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL).

Oil futures volatility and the economy
The drone strike on Saudi Arabia's oil infrastructure has highlighted the fragile and interconnected relationship between crude oil supply and the global economy, with new research bringing these economic ties into greater focus.

All-in-one: New microbe degrades oil to gas
The tiny organisms cling to oil droplets and perform a great feat: As a single organism, they may produce methane from oil by a process called alkane disproportionation.

Marine oil snow
Marine snow is the phenomena of flakes of falling organic material and biological debris cascading down a water column like snowflakes.

Read More: Oil News and Oil Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.