Oil Spill Update: Feds Provide Detailed Weekly Avian Victims Reports

Red banded juvenile Brown Pelican 4Z2, oiled by BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, rehabilitated and released on Rabbit Island, West Cove, Louisiana. Photo: Kim Hubbard/Audubon magazine
Five months after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, causing the country’s largest oil spill, the government has begun posting a weekly species-by-species breakdown of birds affected by the disaster and maps of where they were rescued and collected.


Until last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had only provided the total number of birds. Scientists and wildlife conservation groups have pushed for more information about the specific species injured and killed in oil spill affected areas.

In August, nine prominent scientists sent an open letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and BP CEO Robert Dudley, asking for “full and prompt” release of information assessing the damage with a special emphasis on "key data relating to wildlife mortality and injury."

The scientists, including Blue Ocean Institute’s Carl Safina, Union of Concerned Scientists’ Grancesca Frifo, and NWF’s Doug Inkley, wrote:

"We are greatly concerned with reports that BP is requiring confidentiality agreements in research contracts with scientists, which would preclude them from releasing any of their findings for a three year period," the letter said. "Failure to disclose this scientific information in a timely manner hides critically important information from the public—the owners of the natural resources at risk."

According to the first detailed bird report, as of September 14, a total of 3,634 dead birds and 1,042 live birds have been found in areas affected by the spill, and about 1.5% of those collected live later died. (Note: The numbers are likely higher, closer to 7,000 total—these are the confirmed data, and the verification process can take weeks.)

Laughing gulls have been hit hardest, with 1,591 found dead and 294 rescued alive, followed by the recently de-listed brown pelican: 376 dead, 192 alive.

“These new detailed reports will give us a better initial picture of the effects to migratory bird populations from the Deepwater Horizon spill, help guide our efforts to restore these populations, and help ensure that those responsible will be held accountable for the full impacts of the spill,” said Tom Strickland, assistant secretary of the Interior for FWS, in a statement.

With BP’s well permanently sealed, the Gulf oil spill is beginning to fade from the front pages. But though new crude isn’t gushing into the Gulf, residual oil is a problem and bird carcasses are still being found. The full effects of the spill on wildlife and water quality won’t be known for years. Getting a handle on the spill’s impacts—and making that information publicly available—is essential for long-term conservation efforts in the Gulf. 

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