Exxon Valdez, Deepwater Horizon – these oil spill disasters have been devastating for marine wildlife, especially seabirds and marine waterfowl. Once oiled, the body feathers of a seabird lay slick against the skin, losing the insulating properties that keep birds warm and dry. At the same time, the added weight of the oil often prevents the bird from taking off. And the toxins birds ingest while attempting to preen? Well, suffice to say that oil and seabirds don’t mix.
And even a little bit of floating oil can be deadly. One gallon of oil can contaminate hundreds of gallons of water. Floating oil can be carried hundreds of miles from the spill site. Oil leaking from the Exxon Valdez tanker in Prince William Sound was swept by currents southwest out of the Sound along the Kenai Peninsula past the entrance of Cook Inlet to the Alaska Peninsula, almost 500 miles away from the spill site.
On Tuesday (14 August), a 700 gallon spill of diesel fuel was reported in Yaquina Bay, in the marina housing the fishing fleet. Stories in the Oregon news show aerial shots of the sheen from the spill, complete with a flock of gulls. While the oil seems to have been largely contained, will there be oiled birds? COASSTers from Newport and environs got out on their beaches immediately to record a baseline survey. At this time of year, murres, cormorants and gulls nesting at nearby Yaquina Head are ready to fledge their chicks. The Coast Guard – acting quickly – helped boom the area, preventing the oil from spreading in the Bay and getting out into the ocean. But that doesn’t prevent birds from flying into the Bay.
The vast majority of COASST surveys are oil-free, no oil on the birds or on the beach. In fact, COASSTers find most evidence of oil impacts from chronic sources – small bits of oil on birds unconnected to a reported oil spill. Extremely rarely, COASSTers come upon an oil spill. Quick reporting to the local authorities can save the day. In the case of the Yaquina spill, we’re standing by waiting to hear from local COASSTers whether anything untoward washes in to nearby ocean beaches.
As of this posting, no oil or oiled birds have washed up on beaches near Yaquina Bay.