Twenty Years Later Many Bird Species Still Have Not Recovered
from Exxon Valdez Oil Spill


For Immediate Release: March 23, 2009

Contact: American Bird Conservancy, 202-234-7181, ext. 216,




(March 23, 2009) Many species of wildlife were decimated when the Exxon Valdez spilled nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound, Alaska on March 24, 1989. While many are showing signs of returning to normal populations levels, several bird species have not yet recovered, and the status of five others remains unknown.


“Twenty years after the Exxon Valdez spill, oil still poses a grave threat to marine birds. American Bird Conservancy would like to see an acceleration of the phase out of single hulled tankers in the U.S. which are allowed until 2015,” said Dr. Michael Fry, American Bird Conservancy’s Director of Conservation Advocacy. “A similar requirement for double-hulled tankers needs to be made globally to protect birds and other wildlife from future spills. Additional marine reserves and no-go zones for tankers during sensitive breeding and staging seasons should also be implemented to protect the most vulnerable species.”


The Exxon Valdez Trustee Council has found that Exxon Valdez oil persists in the environment to this day in places, and is nearly as toxic as it was when the spill occurred. At the rate this oil is dissipating it will take decades, perhaps even centuries to disappear entirely.


“Analysis of the oil spills’ impacts found that a significant portion of several species’ populations were killed, including 5-10% of the world’s Kittlitz’s Murrelet population and 6-12% of the area’s population of the Marbled Murrelet,” said Dr. Fry. “We are concerned about a number of the bird species harmed in the catastrophe such as the Kittlitz’s Murrelet whose population has yet to rebound.”

Kittlitz’s Murrelet, a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act, declined 99% from 1972 to 2004. Prior to the spill, the rate of decline was 18% per year, but since 1989 that rate has increased to 31%. The growing impact of global warming in the Arctic and the melting of glaciers, caused by the burning of oil and other fossil fuels, may also be a factor in this decline.


Monitoring of bird species has found that the Pigeon Guillemot is not recovering in the spill area and that populations have been steadily declining throughout the Sound since the spill. Similarly, the Marbled Murrelet has not met the recovery objective of an increasing or stable population.


Oil is very toxic to birds, and water birds such as murrelets are particularly susceptible to harm because they come into direct contact with the oil floating on the surface of the water. Once feathers become oiled, they lose their insulating properties and the birds freeze to death, or are poisoned when they try to clean it off. Research has found that Harlequin Ducks and Black Oystercatchers also suffered from chronic injury related to long-term exposure to lingering oil that remains in the area.




American Bird Conservancy (ABC) conserves native wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. ABC acts to safeguard the rarest bird species, restore habitats, and reduce threats, while building capacity in the conservation movement. ABC is the voice for birds, ensuring that they are adequately protected; that sufficient funding is available for bird conservation; and that land is protected and properly managed to maintain viable habitat. ABC is a 501(c)(3) membership organization that is consistently awarded a top, four-star rating by the independent group, Charity Navigator.