Natural Resources Damage Assessment:

Information on Study of Seabirds Killed by Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

RCED-92-22: Published: Nov 27, 1991. Publicly Released: Nov 27, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed a federally funded study to estimate the number of seabirds killed as a result of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, focusing on the: (1) request and approval of the seabird damage study; and (2) study's methodology.

GAO found that: (1) the seabird damage study was established to support the government's claim for damages against the ship's owner and provide data for developing and implementing a restoration strategy; (2) Alaska and federal officials designated by law and regulation to act as trustees for the natural resources damaged or destroyed by the oil spill approved the study as part of an overall damage assessment and restoration plan; (3) the Trustee Council, formed to address spill-related natural resource damage and restoration, included the study in its updated overall damage assessment and restoration plan; (4) although the study was performed under a Department of Justice (DOJ) contract, the Fish and Wildlife Service reimbursed DOJ for the contract and subsequently supervised the contract; (5) to extrapolate the likely bird death toll attributed to the spill, researchers killed 219 seabirds during their efforts to reenact and track the seabirds' drift patterns to determine the number of birds recovered versus the number lost at sea; (6) alternatives to using freshly killed birds for the study were considered but rejected primarily because such birds were considered necessary to replicate spill effects and to yield credible results for scientific and litigation purposes; and (7) preliminary study results indicate that the total number of seabirds killed by the spill range from 260,000 to 580,000, with a best approximation of between 350,000 and 390,000 seabirds.

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