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What Animals are Most Affected by oil Spills?

What Animals are Most Affected by oil Spills?

T1-119efrdnxdDid you know that even the smallest of oil spill can completely decimate wildlife in an area? Since oil floats, there are some animals which tend to be more impacted than other animals around the contaminated location. The lower an animal is in the water, the less likely it is to be impacted by the spill.

This means that the animals which are close to the surface, in particular birds, seem to be most likely to bear the brunt of the oil spill. On this page, we are going to take a little look at the animals which suffer the most from oil spills.


When it comes to oil spills, seabirds tend to be right at the top of the list of impacted animals. In fact, an oil spill which was less than 10 tonnes (a very small spill in the grand scheme of things) was able to wipe out over 60,000 birds. The reason why seabirds tend to die a lot during oil spills is down to the impact the oil has on their bodies:

  • The oil will destroy the protective layer of feathers on the bird. This can make insulation tough. Just a 2-3 square centimetre spot of oil on a bird can kill it.
  • The birds will often try to clean themselves off. As they do this, they will ingest the oil. Oil is toxic. It will cause all sorts of problems to the insides of the bird.
  • Oil can have an impact on eggs. It will either kill the embryo inside, or it will cause defects.


Seals, and we are including sea lions, walruses, seals and fur seals here, also tend to be impacted quite heavily by oil spills. This is because most of their time is going to spent on the surface of the water. While they will be able to go under water, they do have to pop up from time to time in order to breathe. This means breaking through the oil.

Fur seals are most prone to oil spills because the oil will destroy their insulation. It also impacts the way in which they swim, which means they may find it difficult to ‘escape’ the impacted area.

As seals rely on marine life to eat, they will consume oil-contaminated fish. This means that they will be poisoning themselves as they eat.


Dolphins have smooth skin. This means that they are not going to have the oil sticking to them. However, they will consume oil-covered fish. They will also breathe in the fumes.

Sea Turtles

At the time of writing, we don’t actually know why sea turtles are so impacted by oil spills. All that we know is that they are. Generally speaking, their eyes will be damaged, their air ways will be damaged, and their liver will be damaged as they consume food that is covered in oil.


Not many fish are actually impacted by oil spills. This is because they tend to be quite a bit below the surface. Those that are impacted tend to ‘breathe’ the oil in through their gills. This is known to cause fin erosion, which has an impact on swimming, as well as a change in heart rate. Those fish that are not killed will have issues with their reproductive system.

How Oil Harms Animals and Plants in Marine Environments

How Oil Harms Animals and Plants in Marine Environments

cleaning-oil-spill-2Oil spills are devastating to the marine life. We all know that. However, very few people actually stop to consider the reasons as to why oil harms animals and plants in marine environments. This is what we are going to discuss on this page.

There are two ‘reasons’ as to why oil has an impact on animal and plant life. It is either:

  • The oil itself. We will cover how the oil actually impacts the animals in a short while.
  • The cleanup operation. This is actually one of the more dangerous aspects.

Oil is poisonous to animals. It is full of chemicals which can prove fatal. The oil enters the body of the animal through ingestion or inhalation. The chemicals will cause havoc on the system. Many animals will die from respiratory conditions due to the oil. This means they will slowly suffocate. Some animals, for example fish, may only need to get the oil on their skin to be adversely impacted. This is because the oil will make regulation of body temperature difficult. This can cause death.

The animals which seem to be most prone to oil spills are those that live closer to the surface of the water. This is because the oil will float. Sea otters and birds tend to bear the brunt of it all, particularly as the oil drifts closer to the shore. If the oil manages to reach the beach, then any animals which call the beach their home will also be adversely impacted. This includes snails, crabs and clams.

The oil, of course, doesn’t just impact animals. It also impacts the entirety of the environment. Sections of the ocean are now uninhabitable due to oil spills. Oil spills can wipe out plant and animal life in the area. This removes a food source for many creatures. It is impossible to remove every piece of the oil too, which means that life in that area is going to be impacted for a very long time to come. Remember, plants can be poisoned in very much the same way as animals. Thick oil spills are known to ‘smoother’ plants (as well as animals) which ends up killing them off rather rapidly!

To cap it all off, the cleanup operation will require a lot of equipment to correct. The equipment used will be dependent on the size of the spill. A couple of different methods aim to move the slick away from coastal areas. This means the slick is going to be moved further out into the ocean. This will impact even more areas and put even more animals at risk. In some cases, the oil will even be burned off ‘in situ’. This, of course puts the animals and plant life in the immediate area at risk!

Basically, oil spills are not good for animals or the environment at all! New methods are being devised to ensure that oil spills become less likely to happen but, sadly, they can’t be completely eradicated. This means that, sadly, animals are always going to be at risk.