Wildlife experts say they are resigned to the fact that seal pups born on beaches fouled by the Exxon oil spill are going to die.
Having failed to meet Wednesday's deadline for cleaning oil from the nation's worst spill off island shores where thousands of seals bear their young every spring, Exxon got a five-day extension but bowed to Coast Guard pressure and agreed to step up the pace of the cleanup.Prince William Sound, where the supertanker Exxon Valdez ran aground March 24 and spilled 10 million gallons of oil, is home to 10,000 harbor seals, one-third of which haul themselves out of the water every May to give birth on islands in the spill area.
"The actual pupping is not expected to start until May 20, but biologists have seen pups born prematurely," said Joe Bridgman, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation. "They don't know if that's related to oil toxicity. A lot of mothers are already oiled. The concern is that pups will absorb oil through their skin."
A new tactic is being used to help the seals as crews spread peat moss over oily shores to try to soak up the oil, he said. But wildlife specialists were resigned to the likelihood that the pups will die, said Marilyn Sigman of the state Department of Fish and Game.
Exxon's overall deadline is Sept. 15, when winter weather is expected to shut down the cleanup. But in Washington, Coast Guard Commandant Paul Yost said that Exxon will be unable to clean the coastline this year despite the extra equipment and manpower.
"I know what the art of the possible is," Yost told a Senate Commerce subcommittee.