Oil Spills, Sonar, and other issues

by Craig Matkin, North Gulf Oceanic Society

Although the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is larger and may have more complex effects on the environment than the *Exxon Valdez* oil spill, the potential for similar impact on cetaceans is very real. I was intimately involved in studying the damages following of the *Exxon Valdez* spill in Alaska and have published a recent paper on the long term effects on killer whales. (see link at www.whalesalaska.org/publications.htm and abstract below). Unfortunately, in a spill of any size, the great majority of the oil cannot be cleaned up no matter how large or numerous the skimmers. Although we cannot stand by and due nothing, the idea that a significant amount of the oil can be recovered is fallacy. Prevention is the only rational approach and must be taken extremely seriously. Cetaceans do not avoid oil, they are not equipped to deal with large oil slicks of any size, and their chances for deadly respiratory exposure can be high.

I am extremely saddened when I consider all the humans and animal's that are dealing with the aftermath of this continuing spill. Our greatest hope from the Gulf of Mexico disaster is that regulations and oversight on oil production and transportation are seriously strengthened as they were for oil transport in Prince William Sound following the *Exxon Valdez* . Additionally the Minerals Management Service must revamped to serve the interests of the public rather than the oil industry. Finally a comprehensive energy policy that weans us from our need to continue these dangerous drilling practices is essential.

*Ongoing population-level impacts on killer whales Orcinus orca following
the 'Exxon Valdez' oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska*

*C. O. Matkin, E. L. Saulitis, G. M. Ellis, P. Olesiuk, S. D. Rice*

Marine Ecology Progress Series 356:269-281.

Killer whales were photographed in oil after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, but preliminary damage assessments did not definitively link mortalities to the spill and could not evaluate recovery. In this study, photo-identification methods were used to monitor 2 killer whale populations 5 yr prior to and for 16 yr after the spill. One resident pod, the AB Pod, and one transient population, the AT1 Group, suffered losses of 33 and 41%, respectively, in the year following the spill. Sixteen years after 1989, AB Pod had not recovered to pre-spill numbers. Moreover, its rate of increase was significantly less than that of other resident pods that did not decline at the time of the spill. The AT1 Group, which lost 9 members following the spill, continued to decline and is now listed as depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Although there may be other contributing factors, the loss of AT1 individuals, including reproductive-age females, accelerated the population's trajectory toward extinction. The synchronous losses of unprecedented numbers of killer whales from 2 ecologically and genetically separate groups and the absence of other obvious perturbations strengthens the link between the

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