Why Is It So Hard to Count the Number of Animals Killed by Oil Spills?

A recovered oiled sea turtle during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
A recovered oiled sea turtle during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Why Is It So Hard to Count the Number of Animals Killed by Oil Spills?

December 21, 2015

DECEMBER 21, 2015 -- After an oil spill along the coast, the impacts might appear to be pretty obvious: oil on beaches, dead birds, oil-coated otters. When conducting a Natural Resource Damage Assessment, it's our job to measure those environmental impacts and determine what kind of restoration—and how much—is needed to make up for those impacts.

But we don't base those calculations solely on how many animals were observed dead on shorelines, because that would drastically underestimate the total number of animals killed by an oil spill.

Why?

Well, for starters, the length of shoreline where animals might wash up could be very long, isolated, or otherwise difficult to survey. For a large oil spill, imagine trying to study a place as expansive as the Gulf of Mexico. This body of water covers roughly 600,000 square miles and borders five states.

Also, significant portions of the shore are wetlands with convoluted shorelines that make searching and finding animals much more difficult than on sandy beaches.

Learn more about the challenges of quantifying injuries to animals after an oil spill.  

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