Numbers of seabirds killed or debilitated in the 1986 Apex Houston oil spill in Central California
Page, G.W., Carter, H.R., & Ford, G. (1990) Stud Avian Biol 14:164-174
We developed models describing carcass deposition on beaches and carcass loss at sea in order to estimate the number of birds killed by the February 1986 Apex Houston oil spill along the central California coast. A carcass deposition model was used to estimate the total number of beached carcasses by integrating single censuses of dead birds on 51 beaches at the time of the spill, estimated daily proportions of total numbers of carcasses depositing on shore, and a daily rate of beached carcass persistence. A carcass trajectory model was used to estimate the number of birds killed by oil that did not reach shore by integrating simulated slicks arising along the path of the Apex Houston, the distribution and abundance of birds at sea, and a daily at-sea carcass loss rate.
The Apex Houston spill killed thousands of seabirds along the central California coast. At least 3364 debilitated live oiled birds, primarily Common Murres (Uriu aalge), were collected from beaches for cleaning and rehabilitation. An estimated additional 5880 dead oiled birds, primarily Common Murres and Rhinoceros Auklets (Cerorhinca monoceruta), washed ashore. Only 87.1% of 7488 Common Murres, 78.6% of 1566 Rhinoceros Auklets, and 82.8% of 169 Cassinís Auklets (Ptychorumphus aleuticus) debilitated or killed by oil were determined to have reached shore. Overall, at least 10,577 birds of 26 species were debilitated or killed including in addition to the above: 276 loons (Gavia spp.), 115 small grebes, 468 Aechmophorus grebes, 19 unidentified grebes, 283 scoters (Melanitta spp.), 37 auklets or murrelets, and 156 birds that were unidentified or of other taxa. Limitations of the models are discussed and future research for refining them is suggested.
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