How oil spills impact ocean animals | Oceana
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April 20, 2024

How oil spills impact ocean animals

Photo Credit | NOAA


Fourteen years ago, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 workers and hundreds of thousands of marine animals. The spill leaked oil into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days, poisoning over 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) of shorelines. It became one of the worst environmental disasters in United States history.  

Oil spills are not just environmental disasters; they are tragedies for coastal communities and the countless marine animals that call our oceans home. From sea turtles and dolphins to seabirds and fish, no creature is spared from the devastating effects of these catastrophic events. 


Marine mammals

Marine mammals, such as bottlenose dolphins, spend a lot of time near the surface of the water, where oil floats, putting them at high risk during oil spills. They can be exposed through breathing in the oil, eating oiled food, or swimming through it – all of which can lead to devastating health issues.  


Birds, once oiled, cannot regulate their temperature, or use their feathers for insulation against water and cold weather – which can lead to death by hypothermia. Oiled birds can also die from dehydration and exhaustion.  

Sea turtles

Sea turtles, like the endangered Kemp’s ridley turtle, are vulnerable to oil at all stages of life – from eggs laid on beaches, to juveniles and adults. They can inhale oil fumes and swallow oil when breathing at the ocean surface in or near oil slicks.  

Fish and Shellfish

Fish important to recreational and commercial fishers, including bluefin and yellowfin tuna, are also impacted. Oily water damages the gills of fish and makes it harder for them to get enough oxygen. Oil can also kill fish eggs and can be detrimental to growth in young fish.  


We can and must do more to protect our oceans, climate, coastal communities, and marine wildlife from the effects of dirty and dangerous offshore drilling. Sign our new petition and make your voice heard to protect our coasts. 

Learn more about Oceana’s campaigns to prevent new offshore drilling here.