USFWS
Fisheries & Ecological Services
Alaska Region

 

Environmental Contaminants

Spill Response & Restoration

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

Photo of a Pigeon Guillemot in the water.  Photo Credit Mike Boylan/USFWSShortly after midnight on March 24, 1989, the T/V Exxon Valdez ran hard aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. In total, some 10.8 million gallons of North Slope crude oil spilled from the stricken vessel.  Approximately 1,300 miles of remote and wild shoreline were oiled.  The timing of the spill, its widespread impact, and the abundance of wildlife in the region combined to make it an environmental disaster well beyond the scope of previous spills.

Wildlife resources managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service were severely impacted, and the Service played a key role in response to this massive oil spill.  More than 35,000 bird carcasses and 1,000 sea otter carcasses were recovered following the spill. This is estimated to be a small fraction of the total number killed by the spill, since many carcasses are likely not found due to being consumed by scavenging animals, floating out to sea and sinking, or landing on shorelines that were difficult to search. The best estimate of total mortality is that 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 250 bald eagles, and billions of salmon eggs were killed by the oil spill.

Twenty-five years later, the Service continues to actively participate in the restoration of impacted wildlife.  For example, in 2014, the Service will initiate a project to restore breeding seabirds, especially pigeon guillemots, in the Naked Island group, an area that was historically one of the most important breeding locations for seabirds in Prince William Sound.  With funding from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, the Service will control mink that are known to severely limit successful seabird nesting on those islands.

An excellent summary of the incident and the various restoration projects which have been conducted over the past 25 years can be found at the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council website.

 

Last updated: March 24, 2014