How Do Oil Spills Affect Fish?

Illustration of fish being affected by an oil spill

Damaging Impacts to Fish and Their Ecosystems

When you imagine the effects of an oil spill on wildlife, you might think of birds with dark, sticky feathers or sea turtles coated in murky gunk from their flippers to their shells. You might also think of the devastating impacts of oil spills on fish, as demonstrated by their remains that wash up on shorelines following a spill.

However, perhaps the most detrimental impacts of oil spills on fish cannot easily be captured in a picture. Oil spills have long-lasting effects on fish that occur throughout their lifecycle, sometimes even causing death. Mass fish casualties due to oil spills often have consequences for the larger ecosystem too, as larger predatory fish and other animals, which depend on smaller fish for food, may starve.

While large oil spills like the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon incident make headlines for their impacts on wildlife, spills in shallow waters and contained areas are actually the most harmful to fish. OPG+ specializes in these impactful domestic spills and provides emergency cleanup service, as well as routine maintenance to protect the environment and prevent permanent damages to fish.

Death or Defects for Fish Eggs

While fish in all stages of life are impacted by oil spills, those that are younger are more susceptible to serious complications. In fact, fish eggs in shallow bodies of water can be completely wiped out by a spill.

In larger bodies of water, fish eggs may survive an oil spill. However, the effects of the spill will impact the eggs as they grow. This impact was observed after fish embryos exposed to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill developed heart defects and other deformities, shortening the lives of some and killing others.

Poisoning Through the Food Chain

Oil spills have been shown to have direct damaging impacts on fish and other marine life. However, the more intricate and arguably more dangerous effects are those which happen indirectly.

Phytoplankton is a vital food source for many marine animals, including small fish, crustaceans, and jellyfish. When phytoplankton become poisoned by oil, any fish that eat the compromised food also become poisoned. This can quickly become a problem as oil travels up the food chain to larger predatory animals and, eventually, humans.

Pollution Through Sunken Oil

Photos of animals impacted by oil spills are helpful in bringing awareness to the dangers of spills on wildlife. However, the unseen devastation to marine life which lives under water and cannot be rehabilitated following a spill are often forgotten.

Non-floating oils pose a threat to underwater species and habitats, as locating and removal of sunken oil is especially difficult. This is disastrous for many species of fish that dwell on the bottom of oceans and lakes, as pools of sunken oil can smother them or damage aquatic vegetation leading to starvation.

Development of Behavioral Defects

Oil spills don’t just affect the bodies of fish, but their brains, too. Scientists studying several different species of fish found that juvenile fish exposed to oil developed behavioral defects incompatible with survival.

When the afflicted fish came into contact with a predator, they exhibited reduced tendencies to seek refuge via shelter or the presence of other fish, as well as increased likelihood of engaging in risky behavior which could jeopardize their survival. This behavior occurred during exposure to a small volume of oil, which underscores the importance of protecting fish from ever coming into contact with toxic substances.

Protect Marine Life in Your Community with OPG+

If you come across an oil spill at your property or business, we’ve got you covered! Our biodegradable product is not only safe for the planet, but also ensures the well-being of the fish and other wildlife in your community. With OPG+, we can restore both freshwater and saltwater areas, making our services perfect for any spill situation.

Don’t wait until you find an oil spill to act! Reach out to us today and let our experienced team of specialists help you protect the wildlife in your community. Whether you need emergency cleanup or regular maintenance, our team is here to help.