Marine Biology

How Oil Spills Affect Penguins

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"How Oil Spills Affect Penguins"
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Oils spills have been happening for decades. Oil spill disasters are becoming more frequent as safety checks are being ignored. Unfortunately, when an oil spill occurs it doesn’t just have a negative impact on humans. It affects the environment and the life it sustains. Penguins are just one of the many victims affected by human negligence.

When an oil spill occurs, the penguins’ food supply is affected. Many of the fish that they eat die in the toxic oil infested waters. A penguin desperately hungry may decide to eat these fish and ultimately become sick or die from the poisonous oil.

Penguin and other wildlife have become the poster children of Dawn dish soap. During cleanup efforts many volunteers try to save as many wildlife victims as possible. It is important to help clean penguins because of the poison affects the oil has. It isn’t just their food supply that is affected.

Many times penguins can see the oil in the water and since they must surface to breathe air, their bodies become weighted with the oil. For those that can surface and make it to dry land, their first reaction is to clean themselves. When they go to preen themselves, they ingest the oil. Because the oil is so poisonous it can cause internal damage to the penguins’ organ systems causing them to not work properly.

Another threat the oil poses to penguins that can’t clean off all of the oil is hypothermia. Penguins’ feathers help insulate them and make them waterproof from the cold temperatures of the water. When they are covered in oil, this prevents the feathers from protecting them from the cold. The result is penguins becoming soaking wet with frigid water, which will prevent them from staying warm. Hypothermia in penguins, just like humans, can lead to death in a short amount of time.

If penguin eggs are affected by the oil, it can lead to birth defects as the oil is absorbed into the embryo. In many cases, the oil will actually kill the unborn penguin before it even has a chance at life. This was the case during the during the oil spill off the African Cape Peninsula in 1994. This oil spill occurred during the African black-footed penguins breeding season. Many of the chicks did not survive.

In 2000, the carrier, Treasure, sank off the coast of Africa. Oil spilled into the waters. This soaked much of the African black-footed penguin population with the toxic oil. Fortunately, most of the penguins were cleaned up by volunteers and released back in the wild. However, many penguins weren’t so lucky.

In 2006, several Magellanic penguins made it to the shores of Argentina covered in oil. Volunteers from Brazil and the United States joined the efforts to save the Magellanic penguins. Unfortunately, experts aren’t sure where the oil came from. Apparently, this is a common occurrence. Many large oil spills such as the Exxon oil spill of 1989 and the BP oil spill of 2010 make the headlines. Sadly, many oil spills remain unreported through the media.

Cleaning up the penguins isn’t enough. In many cases, it takes years to clean up their natural habitat. This still puts them at risk of being poisoned directly by the waters or even indirectly by consuming the fish in the affected area. If it wasn’t for caring volunteers during times of corporate negligence and worldwide greed, the penguin population would be even smaller than it is today.

More about this author: L.S. Watts

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