How Oil Spills Affect Wildlife

Bird covered in oil

Oil in Today’s World

Oil has become a crucial element to the way we live today: it helps us to drive our cars, heat our homes, and generate electricity. It is hard to imagine what life would look like without oil as an energy source. However, oil is not beneficial for all living things. In the case of marine life, wildlife, and plants, it can be detrimental to their health. Not only can it harm these animals, but humans as well if they accidentally consume an animal who has been affected by an oil spill. In 2022, there were seven oil spills recorded at a size of significance, three of which were over 700 tonnes of oil. The type of oil and the amount that the animal is exposed to will determine how harmful it is, but even small amounts can cause damage.

crab covered in oil

Why Is Oil Harmful?

Crude oil is a naturally occurring fossil fuel. This kind of oil is harmful due to containing chemical properties that are poisonous, some of which may be harmful and cancerous to inhale. Oil can be harmful to the environment and other living things both physically and biochemically.

There are three main direct effects of oil spills on wildlife: Ingestion, absorption, and inhalation. The severity of these effects are dependent on the amount of oil that the animal has been exposed to, as well as the health and age of the animal when it is exposed. In the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, an estimated 25,900 marine mammals may have been harmed. Along with this, 82,000 birds were estimated to be harmed as well as 6,000 sea turtles.

duck covered in oil

How Oil Spills Affect Mammals

For our feathered friends, an animal with wings may experience a loss of flight when an oil spill happens, because of the oil coat over their wings. In some cases, animals with fur or feathers suffer from a loss of insulation due to the harsh properties of the oil, causing them to be less likely to survive in colder climates. Oil can even cause waterfowl to drown due to a loss of buoyancy, which means the bird loses their ability to float.

Oil spills can start a chain reaction in ecosystems. All animals are affected, even if they do not come in physical contact with the oil spill. For example, if animals are dying due to an oil spill, animals can be left without regular food supply, disrupting natural life cycles in their ecosystems.

scientist cleaning oil off turtle

How Oil Spills Affect Other Marine Life

While birds who avoid the initial spill can fly away, marine life that lives in water do not have this option. Our research indicates that there are a number of factors that can be harmful to them in this situation. For some animals, like seals, inhalation of the toxic chemicals in the oil can be harmful. If sea turtles rise to the surface they may be harmed by the oil getting in their eyes. Animals without fur may be more likely to have skin irritation and are more prone to infection when exposed to oil.

How OPG+ Can Help

If you notice an oil spill at your property or business, we are here to help. Because we use a biodegradable product, it is safe for the planet, which also means safer for animals in the surrounding environment. OPG+ restores both freshwater and saltwater ways, making it accessible for all situations where there’s a spill.

If you’re in need of an emergency cleanup service or routine maintenance, contact us today!