Potential for sea otter exposure to remnants of buried oil from the Exxon Valdez oil spill

Paul D Boehm, David S Page, Jerry M Neff, Charles B Johnson
Environmental Science & Technology 2007 October 1, 41 (19): 6860-7
A study was conducted in 2005 and 2006 to examine the hypothesis that sea otters (Enhydra lutris) continue to be exposed to residues of subsurface oil (SSO) while foraging on shorelines in the northern Knight Island (NKI) area of Prince William Sound, Alaska more than 17 years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Forty-three shoreline segments, whose oiling history has been documented by prior surveys, were surveyed. These included all shoreline segments reported by a 2003 NOAA random site survey to contain SSO residues in NKI. Sites were surveyed for the presence and location of otter foraging pits. Only one of 29 SSO sites surveyed was identified as an otter foraging site. Most buried SSO residues are confined to tide elevations above +0.8 m above mean lower low water (MLLW), above the range of intertidal clam habitat. More than 99% of documented intertidal otter pits at all sites surveyed are in the lower intertidal zone (-0.2 to +0.8 m above MLLW), the zone of highest clam abundance. The spatial separation of the otter pits from the locations of SSO residues, both with regard to tidal elevation and lateral separation on the study sites, coupled with the lack of evidence of intertidal otter foraging at SSO sites indicates a low likelihood of exposure of foraging otters to SSO on the shores of the NKI area.

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