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American Mink to Pay for Exxon Valdez Spill With Their Lives

American Mink to Pay for Exxon Valdez Spill With Their Lives

The federal government has proposed removing American mink to help boost populations of one species of seabird who still hasn’t recovered from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound.

Credit: Bureau of Land Management

It’s been decades since oil tanker Exxon Valdez spilled millions of gallons of crude oil into the sound in one of the worst environmental disasters ever. However, as of 2008, there were still only an estimated 100 pigeon guillemot living in the Naked Island group (Naked, Storey and Peak islands) in the middle of the sound, which was considered their main breeding ground and home to a quarter of all of their nests.

Thousands died as a direct result of the spill and they continued to suffer the consequences of residual oil for at least a decade after, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

The pigeon guillemot is currently the only marine bird species that remains affected by the 1989 spill and is listed as “not recovering” on the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council’s Injured Resources List, according to the FWS.

Their main problem now is predation of eggs, chicks and adults by American mink, so the FWS has proposed trapping and shooting them to help the birds recover. This plan will involve spending three years removing mink and another two years monitoring and removing mink in nesting areas. These efforts are estimated to lead to 1,000 pigeon guillemot in 15 years, at which point they’ll be considered “recovered.”

While mink are native to the area, no one is sure whether they are native to the Naked Island group, but it is clear that their populations soared there following the spill, and that they’re now causing problems for birds, reports Grist.

David Irons, seabird coordinator with the FWS, told the Alaska Dispatch that the reasons for the decline in the birds don’t matter anymore; because they were initially affected by the spill it’s still up to the trustees to restore the population:

Figuring out how many mink to remove is “the hard part,” Irons said, as the exact number inhabiting the cluster of islands is unknown, although their numbers are estimated to range roughly from 200-300.

By removing the mink, several other species of birds that nest on the islands would benefit as well, Iron said. Parakeet auklets, tufted puffins and horned puffins have also been on the decline in the past decades, but those birds are not on the Trustee Council’s list of affected animals.

“Right now Naked Island is a desert of birds — it used to be a hot spot,” Irons said, adding that the Prince William Sound used to be home to 700 parakeet auklets, whereas now only around 40 remain.

According to the environmental assessment, there is another alternative, which is to do nothing. However, that option is expected to lead to a further decline in these birds.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be accepting public comments until August 17, 2013.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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158 comments

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11:12PM PDT on Oct 12, 2013

Can we get someone to adopt a mink or a bird (virtual) by sending a donation for their lives?
Use Paypal.

4:38AM PDT on Aug 15, 2013

sad news but thanks for sharing

5:41PM PDT on Aug 12, 2013

What are the options here I wonder...

1) Breed the birds in captivity, which may or may not work. How stressfull would it be on the iirds, and could they be scuessfully reintrodiced?
2) Relocate the mink. But to where? And could they survive without throwing their new habitat out of wack.
3) Leave them and watch the birds die out.

Fact of the matter is, mink are fearless and murderous. They will kill for the fun of it. Something has to be done to stop them, or these birds will die out, and possibly the rest of the life on this island.

3:58PM PDT on Aug 1, 2013

The minks can be moved off of the island and put in other places. The people responsible for the oil spill are dragging their feet about paying real money for the destruction they caused. There is still oil leaking. There seems to be still a layer of oil / dispersant at the bottom of the gulf. As the shrimp and other bottom creatures are coming up blind and with extra limbs and heads.

7:03AM PDT on Aug 1, 2013

People killed the birds and now they want to kill the mink to help the birds recover. Once the mink are dead then what happens when the birds recover so well that they overpopulate the island and upset the balance of nature in another harmful way? I guess the solution will be to kill off a perfect percentage of the birds. Hey... we'll eventually get it right, huh? Just kill off the perfect amount of whatever is alive and, one day, it will all be right again! I wouldn't expect much more thought to go into it than that... since it's people in charge of making the decisions.

5:54PM PDT on Jul 31, 2013

Thanks to Phyl and Diana S and all who hate stupidity.
How weird: Oil gets spilled.
birds die.
Kill the mink! Yeah, great resolution!!
How about:
Oil spills:Causes damage, kills birds - get the criminal who spilled the oil!! Too weird a resolution? Not only are birds extinct, Logic, common sense and good plain justice have also become extinct in high places.

8:51AM PDT on Jul 31, 2013

PEOPLE were responsible for the oil spill in the first place, so maybe we should trap and eliminate more PEOPLE, and leave the poor wildlife to fend for themselves!!!

Every time PEOPLE start interfering in the natural order, the natural order gets royally F**KED UP! Leave the minks alone, leave the birds alone, and maybe the SMARTEST of the birds will find another place to live and solve their own damned problems!!!

7:15AM PDT on Jul 31, 2013

Our government has WRONG power. All animals must be protected. The companies who destroy wildlife/ocean life MUST pay.

2:16PM PDT on Jul 29, 2013

Shame!!!

1:55PM PDT on Jul 29, 2013

Why does people think about the "kill them solution" so often?Kill the wolfs,kill the badgers,kill the minks now.Hope they will find a no kill solution as a pigeon guillemot breeding in captivity i.e.

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