Are sea otters being exposed to subsurface intertidal oil residues from the Exxon Valdez oil spill?

P D Boehm, D S Page, J M Neff, J S Brown
Marine Pollution Bulletin 2011, 62 (3): 581-9
Twenty years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, scattered patches of subsurface oil residues (SSOR) can still be found in intertidal sediments at a small number of shoreline locations in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Some scientists hypothesize that sea otters continue to be exposed to SSOR by direct contact when otters dig pits in search of clams. This hypothesis is examined through site-specific examinations where SSOR and otter-dug pits co-occur. Surveys documented the exact sediment characteristics and locations on the shore at the only three subdivisions where both SSOR and otter pits were found after 2000. Shoreline characteristics and tidal heights where SSOR have persisted are not suitable habitat for sea otters to dig pits during foraging. There is clear separation between areas containing SSOR and otter foraging pits. The evidence allows us to reject the hypothesis that sea otters encounter and are being exposed by direct contact to SSOR.

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