ESR prepress abstract  -  doi: 10.3354/esr00762

Determining oil and dispersant exposure in sea turtles from the northern Gulf of Mexico resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Gina M. Ylitalo*, Tracy K. Collier, Bernadita F. Anulacion, Kristy Juaire, Richard H. Boyer, Denis A. M. da Silva, Jennifer L. Keene, Brian A. Stacy

*Email: gina.ylitalo@noaa.gov

ABSTRACT: Documentation of exposure of threatened and endangered sea turtles to petroleum and dispersant released into the northern Gulf of Mexico (GOM) during the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill was a critical component of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process. Substances collected from the skin of oiled and suspected oiled turtles were analyzed for petroleum hydrocarbons to determine oiling status and oil sources. Tissue, gastroenteric and bile samples from a subset of visibly oiled and unoiled turtles that died during the spill in 2010 and in 2011 were analyzed for evidence of internal exposure and absorption of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and the dispersant component dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate (DOSS). The volume of external oil collected from sea turtles was sufficient to confirm the presence of petroleum on 61% of turtles and oil from the DWH spill was identified as the source in 97% of those turtles in which conclusive comparison was possible. Visibly oiled turtles had higher concentrations of tissue PAH concentrations or biliary fluorescent PAH metabolites compared to those determined in unoiled animals. Findings in most of the unoiled turtles were suggestive of low-level PAH exposure from various sources that may represent background values for sea turtles from the northern GOM. DOSS levels were below the limit of quantitation in all samples analyzed except in an esophagus sample of a heavily oiled sea turtle. Overall, the results for petroleum or petroleum-derived compounds of both external and internal samples of sea turtles supported visual observations of oiling.