Marine Biology

How Oil Spills Affect Penguins

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Oil spills have adverse affects on all marine life. It affects fish, crustaceans and invertebrates as well as their habitats. Oil spills are increasing. They affect penguins in many ways. The oil coats their feathers, penguins ingest the oil, and it causes birth defects or kills the embryos as it becomes part of the penguins eggs.

On March 29th of this year, the Malta ship, MS Olivia, carrying crude oil and soy beans from Brazil to Singapore grounded on Nightingale Island in the Tristan da Cunha chain. The island is home to 200,000 penguins, including the endangered Rockhopper penguins.

A National Geographic photographer, Andrew Evans was on the island. He took pictures of the oil laden penguins. On his blog, he wrote, “It was a painful and disturbing scene.” Oil coated 20,000 of the endangered Rockhopper penguins.

Long Term Examination of Oil Spills on Penguins

1. On Monday, July 10, 1995, the Iron Baron a chartered bulk carrier ran aground on Hebe Reef at the mouth Tamar River in northern Tasmania, Australia. The environmental protection agency that is part of the Australian government took part in studying the effects of the oil spill on the penguins. Researchers studied the effect of oil-rehabilitated penguins over several years.

2. The Eudyptula penguins were the oil-rehabilitated penguins. The oil spill occurred just before the breeding season as the male penguins were returning to build nests. 2,060 penguins from 16 locations in northern Tasmania and Bass strait arrived at the rehabilitation facility at Low Head Pilot Station.

The Cleaning and Rehabilitation of of Penguins

1. Volunteers take the penguins to a wash-bay facility. There are three hot water geysers. This is the first step. It takes 30 minutes to wash a penguin. The procedure includes a de-greaser mist (a warm bath of biodegradable soap and antiseptic solution. After, high-pressure shower heads rinse the penguins. 

2. They put a tag on the penguin and put it in a recovery pen under infrared lights to keep them warm while they dry. The pen has swimming pools for the penguins, and they are encouraged to swim. 
The volunteer feed pilchards to the weaker penguins to build up their strength. Volunteers check the penguins for waterproofing and weight.

3. Volunteers check the penguins' feathers for waterproof. The penguins achieve sufficient weight gain and swim without prompting are ready to go back into the world.

4. They travel to a new location. Translocation relies on the foraging locations of the penguins. The tagged penguins accepted relocation without a problem.

Result of Rehabilitation

1. The first breeding, after the oil spill, decreased fledglings and egg success results.

2. The second breeding season used a control group of penguins that had not been affected by the oil spill and oil-rehabbed penguins.

The results showed that the oil-rehabilitated penguins had less strength and lower egg production than the control group.

3. Later studies showed that the oil-rehabilitated penguins recovered if removed from their native islands and 95% survived and were normal.

4. The “Field Manual for the Rescue and Rehabilitation of Oiled Birds” (Walvern, Ema, 1992) with slight variation is the method they use. 

The Low Head Pilot Station for treatment and rehabilitation documented the success rate of the program.

The treatment of penguins and all wildlife is expensive. Most of the programs need donations from all citizens.

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