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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 513:225-237 (2014)  -  DOI:

Bird mortality from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. I. Exposure probability in the offshore Gulf of Mexico

J. Christopher Haney1,4,*, Harold J. Geiger2, Jeffrey W. Short3

1Terra Mar Applied Sciences LLC, 123 W. Nye Lane, Suite 129, Carson City, NV 89706, USA
2St. Hubert Research Group, 222 Seward, Suite 205, Juneau, AK 99801, USA
3JWS Consulting LLC, 19315 Glacier Highway, Juneau, AK 99801, USA
4Present address: Defenders of Wildlife, 1130 17th Street, NW, Washington DC 20036, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon MC 252 blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, most surface oil remained more than 40 km offshore, precluding reliable estimation of offshore avian mortality based on shoreline counts. Using an exposure probability model as an alternative approach, we estimated that between 36000 to 670000 birds died in the offshore Gulf of Mexico as result of exposure to oil from the Deepwater Horizon, with the most likely number near 200000. Our exposure probability model is a technique for estimating this offshore component of avian mortality as the product of the oil slick area, the density of the birds above the oil slick, and the proportionate mortality of birds that could be exposed to oil during an assumed exposure period. The duration of the exposure period is treated as an estimated parameter to account for oil slick movement, exposure of birds immigrating to the oil-contaminated area, and re-exposure of birds that survived prior vulnerability to exposure. Total avian mortality is determined as the sum of mortalities from each exposure period. Exposure probability may be the only method available to estimate bird mortality from large, remote oil spills in the open ocean where carcasses are unlikely to ever reach shore. In the case of the Deepwater Horizon, the uncertainty interval is quite large because several parameters could not be well estimated. Historically sparse survey coverage effectively led to an under-appreciation of the effects of this spill on marine birds.

KEY WORDS: Avian mortality · Exposure probability · Oil spill · Deepwater Horizon · Gulf of Mexico · Offshore habitat · Marine birds

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Cite this article as: Haney JC, Geiger HJ, Short JW (2014) Bird mortality from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. I. Exposure probability in the offshore Gulf of Mexico. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 513:225-237.

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