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Endangered Species: Sea otters still recovering, 25 years after Exxon Valdez oil spill

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons


By Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter
Wednesday, March 5, 2014, 5:15

On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker struck Prince William Sound's Bligh reef in Alaska, spilling up to 750,000 barrels of crude oil into U.S. waters.

To date, it is considered one of the most destructive human-caused environmental disasters.

Immediate effects include the deaths of:

  • 250 seabirds
  • Nearly 4,000 sea otters
  • 247 bald eagles
  • 22 orcas 
  • Countless fish and plant species

The impact of this disastrous spill can still be seen, with an estimated 23,000 gallons of Valdez crude oil remaining in Alaska's soil today.


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Some species continue to struggle in the aftermath of the spill, but a recent report issued by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) offers some hope.

While the sea otter remains on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's red list of endangered species due to "large scale population declines", long-term data by the suggests that sea otters "have returned to pre-spill numbers within the most heavily oiled areas of Prince William Sound."

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

This species was particularly slow to recover from the spill due to continued exposure to crude oil, which has been found in feeding habitats.

"Although recovery timelines varied widely among species, our work shows that recovery of species vulnerable to long-term effects of oil spills can take decades," said the study's lead author Brenda Ballachey in a statement.


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"For sea otters, we began to see signs of recovery in the years leading up to 2009, two decades after the spill, and the most recent results from 2011 to 2013 are consistent with recovery as defined by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council."

OTHER THREATS TO THE SEA OTTER

While oil spills remain one of the biggest threats facing this species, sea otters can also become entangled in fishing traps. Habitat loss due to human activity and climate change are other contributing factors.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP


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