The Effects of Oil on Wildlife
• Birds and other marine life can suffer from the effects of an oil spill. Even small spills can severely affect marine wildlife.
• Oil spills have different impacts on wildlife and the surrounding environment, depending on the type of oil, location of the spill, species of wildlife in the area, and timing of breeding cycles and migrations.
• Oil coats animals’ bodies with a thick layer that may become stickier over time and adhere even more.
• Some fish are attracted to oil because it looks like floating food. Sea birds, attracted to schools of fish, may dive through oil slicks to get to them.
• Oil that sticks to fur or feathers, can cause:
• Hypothermia. Birds also lose body weight as their metabolism tries to combat low body temperature.
• Marine mammals lose weight when they cannot feed.
• Poisoning of young through the mother. For example, a dolphin calf can absorb oil through its mothers milk.
• Birds become easy prey, as they are less able to fly away. They may become dehydrated and starve.
• Birds sink or drown because oiled feathers weigh more, and sticky feathers cannot trap enough air to keep birds buoyant.
• Damage to the insides of animals’ and birds’ bodies, for example causing ulcers or bleeding in their stomachs if they ingest the oil.
• Poisoning of wildlife higher up the food chain if they eat large amounts of other organisms that have taken oil into their tissues.
• Damage to the lungs of marine mammals and turtles, congestion, pneumonia, emphysema and even death by breathing in droplets of oil, fumes or gas
• Damage to marine mammals’ or turtles’ eyes, which can cause ulcers, conjunctivitis and blindness.
• Irritation or ulceration of skin, mouth or nasal cavities.
• Suppression of a marine mammal’s immune system, sometimes causing secondary bacterial or fungal infections.
Source: Australia Maritime Safety Authority; visit www.amsa.gov.au/marine_environment_protection/