ESR 33:107-118 (2017)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00811

Marine mammal response operations during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Sarah M. Wilkin1,*, Teresa K. Rowles1, Elizabeth Stratton2, Nicole Adimey1, Cara L. Field3, Sara Wissmann1, Gary Shigenaka4, Erin Fougères5, Blair Mase2, Southeast Region Stranding Network2,5, Michael H. Ziccardi

1National Marine Fisheries Service Office of Protected Resources, Silver Spring, MD 20910, USA
2National Marine Fisheries Service Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Miami, FL 33149, USA
3The Marine Mammal Center, Sausalito, CA 94965, USA
4National Ocean Service Office of Response and Restoration, Seattle, WA 98115, USA
5National Marine Fisheries Service Southeast Regional Office, St Petersburg, FL 33701, USA
6Oiled Wildlife Care Network, Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: When the Mississippi Canyon-252 Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill occurred in April 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, wildlife professionals were quickly mobilized to assess, recover, and treat oiled marine mammals as part of the Incident Response operating under the Unified Command. There were significant challenges associated with the crisis, including the sustained response to a prolonged, uncontrolled oil release (from a deepwater wellhead rather than a controllable and finite source like a tanker); the large geographic scale of the oiled area and thus the response effort; and ensuring effectiveness without the benefit of previous experience of cetacean response in oil spills. The response phase for this spill lasted from April 2010 to May 2011, and the mobilization of field teams resulted in the confirmation of 13 live and 178 dead stranded cetaceans across 4 states and offshore waters. Four primary care centers were coordinated to de-oil animals, and additional facilities and personnel were mobilized to augment and support the effort. Numerous protocols were implemented to ensure appropriate animal care as well as documentation and sample collection, informing both response and Natural Resource Damage Assessment decisions. Additional efforts included the implementation of a wildlife observer program integrated into oil recovery operations (skimming and in situ burns) and behavioral observations of nearshore cetaceans. The unprecedented effort resulted in the first rehabilitation of an oiled dolphin and the coordination of a very large-scale response, with important information collected, and lessons learned for future oil spills in marine mammal habitat.


KEY WORDS: Marine mammals · Oil spill response · Deepwater Horizon · Gulf of Mexico · Cetaceans · Rehabilitation


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Cite this article as: Wilkin SM, Rowles TK, Stratton E, Adimey N and others (2017) Marine mammal response operations during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Endang Species Res 33:107-118. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00811

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