Oil Spills: How they affect the world’s sea life

By Olivia

Did you know that over 706 billion gallons of toxic oil enter the world’s oceans every year? Less than 8% of that is from ship leaks and off-shore drilling. Over half comes from waste disposal and land drainage.

Immediate Effects

Birds and fur seal pups lose insulation in their fur and feathers, then die of hypothermia. Birds are unable to fly because of oil in their feathers, and are easily eaten by other animals. Digesting the oil, even by accident, can be fatal to sea creature, birds , fish and mammals alike. Often, the flippers of seals become stuck to their bodies and they are either eaten or drown.

Long-Term Effects.

Any sea creature which digests the oil is not only endangering themselves, but their young as well. Whale and dolpin calves can be poisoned if their mothers digest oil. Birds who digest oil and then lay eggs, lay them with a decreased thickness in the shell making them easy to crack and making it hard for the babies to live. Also, oil kills off plankton which is a vital source of food in the aquatic food chain. All sea species depend on plankton to survive and a disruption that large in the food chain causes many species of fish to disappear from certain areas or go extinct.

Oil Spills Happening Now

In the Gulf of Mexico, an oil tanker called the Deepwater Horizon crashed in April 2010. It is spilling a minimum of 200,000 gallons of oil into the ocean a day.

Also in April, another oil tanker off the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The Great Barrier Reef is the largest reef in the world; it’s visible from space! If the reef bleached, hundreds of fish will go extinct.

In 2000, several thousand penguins were affected by a fuel oil spill after the iron carrier Treasure sank off South Africa. Many oil-soaked birds were cleaned and released.

Over half the ocean’s waste oil comes from land-based sources and from unregulated recreational boating. The heavy development in this busy California port illustrates one potential source of petroleum contamination in coastal waters. (Note dark plume in left foreground.)

Sea Turtles: Dredging of nesting beaches, collisions,

and noise disruptions are all potential threats to sea

turtles. Hatchlings are also particularly susceptible to

oiling because they spend much of their time near

the water surface, where spilled oil or tar


Crude oil from the Sea Empress tanker spill coats a beach at Pembrokeshire, Wales in 1996. Although marine transportation accidents can result in such oil spills, they account for only about 5 percent of the waste oil that enters the ocean annually.







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Filed under Exciting Science Spring 2010

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