The Exxon Valdez oil spill killed between 90,000 and 270,000 sea birds, making it the deadliest such accident in history, and it will take up to 70 years for wildlife to recover, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported Friday.
The new mortality estimates are based on the number of carcasses recovered from Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska as well as the known population of animals in the once-pristine region polluted by 11 million gallons of crude oil that spewed from the supertanker Exxon Valdez when it ran aground March 24."On a global scale, the northern Gulf of Alaska harbors enormous populations of marine birds and so the magnitude of losses from the Exxon Valdez spill was predictable and, not surprisingly, exceeds any other record of oil mortality we can find," said Fish and Wildlife Service biologists John Piatt and Calvin Lensink in their report.
"It will take years and decades for some populations to return to pre-spill numbers," the biologists said, noting that "populations should fully recover in 20 to 70 years."
A faster recovery will occur only if birds from unaffected colonies move into hard-hit regions, the report said.
A large colony of murres in the Barren Islands, part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, was virtually wiped out, and smaller colonies also were decimated. But the biologists said it was too early to determine whether the mass deaths represent biologically significant losses to the population.
No other oil spill in history has resulted in such widespread death, the report said.