Marine Biology

How Oil Spills Affect Penguins

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"How Oil Spills Affect Penguins"
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Oil spills have severe poisoning and immobilizing effects upon penguins and their health, as well as their continuity as a species. As these flightless sea birds spend up to 75 percent of their whole lives in water, the likelihood of them being affected by any oil spills is considerably great. The thick black oil which sometimes leaks or is dumped into the ocean is toxic to humans and animals, including penguins. The impact of such oil spills upon the health of penguins is negative. This article focuses on the extent as well as how oil spills affect penguins.

A loss of insulation resulting in hypothermia

When penguins’ feathers get covered in thick oil, it destroys the natural waterproofing and insulating properties of their coat needed to keep warm, and so as a result, many penguins often die from hypothermia as they lose their ability to bare the freezing ocean and climate temperatures of their habitat.

The ingestion of oil

When penguins are coated in oil, they try to clean themselves and remove this debilitating thick oil from their feathers. As they do this, they ingest some of the oil which severely damages and weakens their insides, including the intestines, kidneys and lungs.

Another adversely negative effect of ingesting oil is how it makes penguins unable to float in water, since they have large volumes of oil inside them, which weigh down on them. Such a happening causes many to die from drowning, as well as prevents them from hunting for fish, resulting in death from starvation.

A further way penguins are harmed by oil spills is if the fish they hunt for and eat are contaminated with oil. With time, and depending upon the closeness and extent of the oil spill, large populations of penguins can die, especially if help does not reach them in time.

The risk of becoming an endangered species

Oil spills can have adversely serious affects upon the population count of penguins. Quite a recent example of how an oil spills can affect the endangerment of penguins is in March, 2011 of this year when the M.S. Olivia ship leaked large amounts of crude oil as it landed on the South Atlantic location of Nightingale Island. The island happens to be home to thousands of penguins, including over half of the world’s already endangered northern rockhopper species.

The director for the International Bird Rescue Research Center, Jay Holcomb, posted on the group’s website that around 20,000 rockhopper penguins were " confirmed oiled". The result of this spill has further endangered the penguin species. Such spills are a contributing factor for many species of penguins to be currently listed on the endangered species list. Penguin eggs can be damaged and die due to the toxic nature of the oil, especially if such a spill and aftereffects of it happen during the breeding season. Some of the other reproductive harms oil has on penguin-continuity are a decreased fertility of eggs and reduced reproduction ability, as well as eggs hatching deformed chicks.

Oil spills have devastatingly negative effects upon penguins, their health and continuity as a species. A loss of required insulation, the ingestion of oil and the threat of endangerment are some of the ways in which oil spills harm the penguin population.

More about this author: Matilda Willows

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