Loons and the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

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?

Previously Funded Expedition

Explore this expedition

Read testimonials
Join Ambassador Program
Earn expedition discounts & rewards for spreading the word about Earthwatch.

Have a question?


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


This is a summary:



The Scientists


James (Jim)
Associate Professor, Biology Department, St. Joseph’s College

ABOUT James (Jim) Paruk

Dr. James “Jim” Paruk is the Senior Scientist at the Center for Loon Conservation at the Biodiversity Research Institute. Jim is investigating the health and behaviors of loons in Lake Jocassee, South Carolina in order to better understand common loon wintering behavior in freshwater and compare it to four years of data Earthwatch teams have collected from loons along the coast of Louisiana.



Accommodations and Food

Accommodations and Food


Comments & Questions

Got a question for Earthwatch, prior expedition participants, or just have something to say?

Tell us what’s on your mind!

Have a question?


Please login to post a comment or question.

Displaying results

Upcoming Expeditions

You are currently on our Earthwatch U.S. website. If you are interested in learning more about our expeditions and seeing contribution costs listed in Pounds and Euros, please close this dialog box. To visit our new Earthwatch Europe website, click the button below.

To view and book expeditions with prices in Australian Dollars CLOSE this dialogue box OR Click the button below for all other Earthwatch Australia content on our new website.