Tiffany Getz

By Tiffany Getz, Staff Writer

It has been a year since the BP oil spill, which harmed hundreds of wildlife species and caused the tragic deaths of 11 oil rig workers. Numerous efforts have been made to help clean up the Gulf coast, but there is still work to be done. Due to the help of many caring individuals, some wildlife species are seeing an increase in recovery status, but some are still suffering the unfortunate consequences.

Wildlife Beginning to Recover

Brown Pelican

The species was removed from the endangered species list in 2009, but during the spill, the Louisiana state bird took a hard hit, decreasing their population in the Gulf. According to a report by the National Wildlife Federation, the outlook for the species is ‘good,’ despite the threatening circumstances.

While the brown pelican is making a slow recovery, other bird species have been impacted, including the laughing gull, northern gannet and royal tern.

Oil can be detrimental to a bird’s health; it damages and sticks to the bird’s feathers. When the birds attempt to preen or clean their feathers, oil is ingested. The ingested oil can cause ulcers, organ damage and even death. Other problems the birds face once oil has covered their feathers are the loss of buoyancy and decreased regulation of body temperatures.


A continuing impact to degraded wetlands is still affecting the shrimp population in the Gulf. However, ‘catch levels’ are likely to recover to recent pre-spill harvest totals.

The Gulf is home to five different species of sea turtles including green, loggerhead, leatherback, hawksbills and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. Kemp’s ridley is the most endangered sea turtle species in the world. According to the Wildlife Federation, during the oil spill sea turtle stranding was 8 times higher than the 22-year average.

Various studies have suggested that sea turtles do not instinctively attempt to avoid oil slicks, which leaves the turtles at a higher risk for exposure. When the turtles surface for air, they can be directly exposed. The oil threatens the life cycle of sea turtles, affecting eggs to adults. While many hatchings struggle simply to survive long enough to become adults, adding oil into the equation could drastically affect the growth of the population. When beaches are polluted with oil, hatchings can die in the oil in their attempts to reach the sea, and those that make it would be greeted by oil-filled waters.

Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

The Atlantic Bluefin Tuna had already endured drops in population prior to the spill as a result of overfishing. The fish breed only twice a year, and the oil spill occurred during oen of them. As a result, the numbers have decreased drastically. Numerous fish and aquatic invertebrates are in danger from exposure and are coping with the disaster. Some species are at risk for fin erosion, enlarged livers, other physical defects or even death.

Yellowfin tuna, sharks and blue crabs also fall into the at-risk category.


During the spill, stranding was up five times the normal rate. The fitness of adults has been reduced, and reproductive problems have increased due to the oil, but overall the dolphins are listed as ‘good’ in the Wildlife Federation report.

While dolphin conditions are thought to be improving, other mammals are suffering from chemical burns and irritation from direct contact. If the mammals ingest the oil, internal bleeding may occur.

Other mammals impacted are sperm whales, blue whales and West Indian manatees