ESR 33:119-125 (2017)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00770

Exposure of cetaceans to petroleum products following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico

Laura Aichinger Dias1,2,*, Jenny Litz2, Lance Garrison2, Anthony Martinez2, Kevin Barry3, Todd Speakman4,5

1Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS), University of Miami, 4600 Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami, Florida 33149-1098, USA
2National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Fisheries Science Center, 75 Virginia Beach Drive, Miami, Florida 33149, USA
3National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Fisheries Science Center, 3209 Frederic Street, Pascagoula, Mississippi 39567, USA
4Jardon & Howard Technologies Incorporated (JHT Inc.), 2710 Discovery Dr., Suite 600, Orlando, Florida 32826, USA
5National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, Hollings Marine Laboratory, 331 Fort Johnson Road, Charleston, South Carolina 29412, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill was by far the largest offshore oil spill in the history of the USA. For 87 d, the well spilled millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, extensively affecting the habitat of numerous species of cetaceans. Previous studies have suggested that cetaceans would be able to detect and avoid oiled waters and, when in contact, oil would not adhere to their slick skin. However, photographic evidence and field observations gathered following the DWH oil spill documented at least 11 cetacean species swimming through oil and sheen, with oil adhered to their skin. This study not only documented direct exposure of cetaceans to petroleum products but also the persistence of the oil on their skin. In addition, given the extent of the DWH oil spill, the number of affected species and individuals was likely far greater than the documented occurrences captured during this study. Based on this evidence, we suggest that during oil spills in cetacean habitat, direct exposure of whales and dolphins to petroleum products will likely occur and should therefore be taken into account during response activities and damage assessments.


KEY WORDS: Cetacean · Oil exposure · Deepwater Horizon · Oil spill · Petroleum


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Cite this article as: Aichinger Dias L, Litz J, Garrison L, Martinez A, Barry K, Speakman T (2017) Exposure of cetaceans to petroleum products following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Endang Species Res 33:119-125. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00770

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