BP has painted spills as fixable, running commercials showing volunteers cleaning oiled birds with Dawn Soap. Although it’s nice to think we can undo the damage done to animal populations, the reality of a spill is much bleaker.
When asked to estimate the number of wildlife damaged by the Exxon Valdez spill, the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council is unable to give an estimate, saying simply “no one knows.” The best estimate for wildlife deaths are as follows: upwards of 250,000 sea birds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, 22 killer whales, and billions of salmon and herring eggs. Many of the species damaged by the initial spill are still reported as recovering by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council over twenty years later. The above are considered low estimations for the immense amount of deaths caused by the spill. Killer whale researchers monitoring two distinct pods in Prince William Sound before and after the spill have seen the devastating effects of oil on the whale populations. Thirteen out of thirty-five killer whales in the resident pod died after the spill and the population still hasn’t rebounded. Even worse off is the transient pod, the Chugach transients, who due to their status as top predator “accumulate contaminants from everything below them. High levels of PCBs and DDT in their blubber may be causing reproductive problems: The Chugach transients haven't birthed a single surviving calf since 1984.” Twenty five years with no successful offspring is a devastating reality for Alaskan killer whales and extinction is a possibility for a pod that has lived in the area for thousands of years. The extreme disruption caused by the spill continues to affect animal populations as well as local biodiversity and human industry today—despite twenty five years of active monitoring and clean up.