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2092

Ocean Health

Loons and the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

How are these key predators faring after 250 million gallons of oil poured into waters they depend on?


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The facts

Why the research is important

Why the research is important

Loons are remarkable birds. They can dive more than 200 feet (61 meters) deep to catch their prey.

Animals that are high up in the food chain—like loons, which eat fish and shrimp—can tell us a lot about what’s going on in their environment.

Researchers are studying large sea birds in the Gulf of Mexico, like loons and pelicans, to look for signs that spilled oil is working its way up through the food chain. They already know that a loon’s body will absorb and store larger amounts of toxins like petroleum than it is able to expel, so if oil has entered the food chain of the Gulf, the loons’ bodies will provide evidence of it.

Chronic exposure to petroleum can harm loons and other large sea birds and may lead to death from starvation, disease, or predation. This could be especially dangerous for the gulf loons—if this research shows that they return to the same location every year to feed and molt (as we know loons that winter on the Pacific Coast do), they will be exposed to toxins from the oil spill for years.

Common Loon

Loons may prove very sensitive to the Gulf oil spill’s lingering effects.

Local people are also, of course, still recovering from this huge environmental disaster. Many boat captains lost their livelihoods when the spill devastated the gulf’s fishing tourism. Earthwatch researchers have involved some of these captains in the boat-based loon surveys, introducing them to a very different aspect of their valuable coastal community while also providing them with work. By joining us, you too will get to know this community—and have a hand in protecting it for years to come.

About the research area

Port Sulfur, Louisiana, United States, North America & Arctic

Daily life in the field

Itinerary

This is a summary:

The Scientists

MEET THE LEAD SCIENTIST

Jim
Paruk
Director, Center for Loon Conservation at the Biodiversity Research Institute

ABOUT Jim Paruk

Dr. Jim Paruk is investigating how loons are faring on the Louisiana shore of the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, as well as how they are 2,000 miles north in Saskatchewan, Canada at their summer breeding grounds.

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MEET THE OTHER SCIENTISTS

Accommodations and Food

Accommodations and Food

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