Louisiana delta, Southern USA — The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill of April 20, 2010, was the largest that the US had ever experienced, with over 250 million gallons of crude oil released into the Gulf of Mexico. Many areas were greatly impacted by the oil spill, including the Gulf coast of Louisiana. The impacts from this spill on resident and migratory wildlife are likely to last a decade, or more, based on the impacts the Exxon Valdez oil spill on local and regional wildlife in Alaska. One species potentially impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is the Common Loon. Satellite telemetry data and recovery data from bands attached to loons suggests the entire Midwest breeding population, (around 5000 pairs) and some of Manitoba and Ontario's loons, overwinter in the Gulf of Mexico for up to six months of the year.
Winter is an energetically stressful time for loons because of both physiological changes (the move from freshwater to marine water) and morphological changes (such as molting). Chronic exposure to polyaromatic hydrocarbons (e.g. petroleum) can cause many debilitating sublethal effects, such as immune system suppression, hormonal imbalance, and red blood cell damage, which can lead to death by other means such as starvation, disease and predation.
By monitoring the Louisiana coast for adult loon survivorship and health, we will be able to better determine impacts from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on Common Loon breeding populations. Objectives will include determining the diet of wintering loons, as well as their habitat use, and monitoring their movements and behavior. We’ll assess the health of individuals and determine cause of death of any loons found in the area.
Our results will contribute to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's National Resource Damage and Assessment process, which oversees studies that attempt to quantify the extent of any damage and the best methods for restoring resources.
Meet the Scientists
Dr. Jim Paruk
International Loon Center for Conservation and Research
Dr. Jim Paruk is Director of the International Loon Center for Conservation and Research, for the BioDiversity Research Institute.
Following his Master’s in biology, completed at Northern Illinois University, he travelled alone for six months, driving past the Arctic Circle in Alaska, to the Baja peninsula, New England, and the Florida Everglades. He studied for his Ph.D in Biology at Idaho State University, Pocatello, ID, then accepted a professorship at Feather River College in northern California. He later took another professorship at Northland College, Wisconsin. In both positions he taught numerous courses including ecology and ornithology. He has directed several research projects, served as vice president of the North American Loon Fund for two years, and as board member for LoonWatch, chairing the research committee, for five years.
This is not Dr. Paruk’s first partnership with Earthwatch - between 1993 and 1996 he was a lead scientist on a former Earthwatch project investigating the parental roles, aggression, and social behavior of Common Loons in the Great Lakes Region.
“My spirit is drawn to those aspects of a loon that symbolize wilderness, independence and freedom. My experience with Earthwatch in the past is that volunteers are knowledgeable, bright, caring people who want to contribute. They often make great suggestions, and they bring their energy and enthusiasm to the project that keeps me going.”