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Exxon Valdez — 25 Years Later

When the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound, Alaska 25 years ago, the Monterey Bay Aquarium sea otter team was among the first responders to the March 24, 1989 disaster. We were the only institution on the West Coast with experience rescuing and raising ill and orphaned sea otters, and we played a central role in setting up two emergency centers that cleaned and cared for surviving otters. (Between 1,000 and 5,500 sea otters died in the spill.)

We also brought two orphaned pups to Monterey (similar to the pup shown above) and raised them until they found homes at the Vancouver Aquarium.

This year, the sea otter population in Prince William Sound was finally declared recovered from the effects of the spill. For other species, the picture hasn’t been as rosy. A resident killer whale population may go extinct; the pigeon guillemot seabirds found in the region and a once-robust herring fishery have not bounced back.

We may finally know why.

New research on crude oil impacts

There’s new evidence, published this year by our partners at the Tuna Research and Conservation Center, that for the first time pinpoints significant long-term impacts from crude oil on ocean wildlife. Their published studies, conducted in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, document how crude oil affects the developing hearts of larval fishes caught in spills. They also show a possible link between compounds in oil and long-term risks to cardiac health in many animals exposed to the compounds – including sea otters and even humans.

Even before we opened our doors to the public in 1984, the Aquarium began caring for stranded and orphaned California sea otters. Today, 30 years later, we’re more involved than ever – and in more ways than ever – on behalf of a future with healthy oceans.

A sobering reminder

The 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill is a sobering reminder of how much is at stake.

It’s also a reminder that we can make a difference: if we’re prepared to respond, if we invest in scientific research to understand long-term impacts, and when we work for policies that protect key species and critical ocean ecosystems.

The Aquarium is active on all these fronts – and working just as hard to inspire new generations who will give a voice to ocean issues. We couldn’t do it without your help.

Learn more about our ocean conservation programs.

Donate to support our ocean conservation work.

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