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.

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