Sea Otter Recovery from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill


When the Exxon Valdez supertanker ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska, in March of 1989 it spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into the water, fouling more than 500 miles of pristine beach and killing fish, seabirds, shellfish and marine mammals. Efforts to determine the extent of the damage to wildlife have been hampered by both a lack of reliable information about conditions before the spill, and the process of the litigation that followed the spill.

Many hundreds of sea otters died because of the oil spill but exactly how many will never be known. Counts of sea otters paradoxically were higher the year after the oil spill than they were five years before. Clearly the otter population in Prince William Sound took a tremendous hit during the oil spill. What accounts for the higher number of otters in 1990? We spoke with David Garshelis about this mystery.

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