Impacts of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles

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Book Chapter

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Marine mammal, Sperm whale, Beaked whale, Dolphin, Passive acoustic monitoring, PAM, Sea turtle, Loggerhead, Kemp’s ridley, Megafauna, Bottlenose, Barataria Bay, Mammal, Odontocete, Bryde’s whale, Spotted dolphin, Stenella Kogia, Echolocation, Visual survey, Nesting, Entanglement, Ship strike, Noise, Airgun, UME, Unusual mortality event, Leatherback, Hawksbill, Stranding, Pinniped, HARP, Mississippi Canyon, Green Canyon, Sargassum, Green turtle, Trawl, Skimming, Risso’s dolphin, Pilot whale, Tag, Aerial survey, Bycatch

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The Gulf of Mexico (GOM) is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world (Fautin et al. PLoS One 5(8):e11914, 2010). Twenty-one species of marine mammals and five species of sea turtles were routinely identified in the region by the end of the twenty-first century (Waring et al. NOAA Tech Memo NMFS NE 231:361, 2015), a decrease from approximately 39 species prior to intensive exploitation (Darnell RM. The American sea: a natural history of the Gulf of Mexico. Texas A&M University Press, College Station, TX, 2015). Life histories of these megafauna species range from hyperlocal residence patterns of bottlenose dolphins to inter-ocean migrations of leatherback turtles. All species are subject to direct and indirect impacts associated with human activities. These impacts have intensified with major development and extraction efforts since the 1940s. The Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill represents a new type of injury to this system: Unlike previous large oil spills, it not only exposed marine megafauna to surface slicks, it also involved an unprecedented release of dispersed oil into deep waters and pelagic habitats, where effects are difficult to observe and quantify. This chapter synthesizes the research conducted following the DWH oil spill to characterize acute and chronic offshore effects on oceanic marine mammals and sea turtles. Marine mammals and sea turtles were exposed to unprecedented amounts of oil and dispersants. Local declines in marine mammal presence observed using passive acoustic monitoring data suggest that the acute and chronic population-level impacts of this exposure were likely high and were underestimated based on coastal observations alone. These population declines may be related to reduced reproductive success as observed in nearshore proxies. Long-term monitoring of oceanic marine mammals is a focus of this chapter because impacts to these populations have not been extensively covered elsewhere. We provide an overview of impacts to sea turtles and coastal marine mammals, but other more thorough resources are referenced for in depth reviews of these more widely covered species.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Impacts of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles, in S. A. Murawski, C. H. Ainsworth, S. Gilbert, D. J. Hollander, C. B. Paris, M. Schlüter & D. L. Wetzel (Eds.), Deep Oil Spills Facts, Fate, and Effects, Springer, p. 431-462