Oil Nightmare! Animals Devastated by the Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico

The wetlands along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico were devastated by the April 20, 2010 oil spill. The wetlands are home to many birds, animals and plants that are hard to find or that cannot be found anywhere else in the United States. Although the oil spill happened in the warm waters of the Gulf, the tides brought the oily waters onto the shores of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama Texas and Florida. Oil rolls up into tar balls as well as moving on shore, destroying ecosystems in its path.

What the Oil Spill Affected

Nearly 1.5 million gallons of oil spilled per day for three months from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oilrig after its explosion. The wellhead was not capped and the flow of oil successfully stopped until July 15, 2010. In the meantime, 190 million gallons of oil poured into the Gulf. During the course of the following year, the full extent of the tragedy began to unfold: 11 people died in the initial explosion, birds and plant life became covered in oil and died, 464 sea turtles and 60 dolphins were found killed. All in all, over 400 species of animals were affected. The oil spill will take many years to recover from as the entire Gulf coastline was affected—in some instances, the coastline actually physcially changed shape.

How People Helped Clean Up the Oil Spill

Volunteers from all over the world flocked to the region to help rescue and clean up during the spill and after it stopped. Many people who lost their fishing jobs in the Gulf of Mexico, although frightened and angry about the spill, helped clean the beaches and wetlands by walking around and shoveling oil and putting the oil into special containers. In the waters of the Gulf, crews skimmed oil off the water and sucked oil out of the water using special vacuums and containment procedures. Rescuing and saving fish, birds, sea turtles, plants, mammals and animals may have been tougher than cleaning the spill itself as volunteers had to remove the oil from them using Dawn dish soap and water.


Have you seen how Dawn dish soap cleans oily messes from your dishes? Drop a bit of Dawn onto an oily dish and watch how that drop immediately moves oil from its region of impact. It’s very cool. Rescuers used Dawn to clean and bathe birds and animals who had oil stuck on and between their feathers and on their bodies. After they cleaned them up, they nursed them back to health and then found safe places to release them.

First, marine biologists, biologists, ecologists and many other types of volunteers bring the birds and animals to the cleaning center where oil is flushed from their eyes and their intestines so that they can see and eat. After their baths with Dawn and other solvents that break down oil, they are examined much in the way you are examined when you go to the doctor, with an extra look for broken bones and other injuries. They are also checked for disease and to see if they are strong enough to be released into the wild after their strength is built up enough to fly and find their own food. Sea otters and other animals are cared for much in the same way.

Unfortunately, it was too late for many animals and birds. Oil can blind them so they cannot see predators and are killed for food. Many animals, birds and fish were poisoned from trying to clean themselves. Many native plants were lost, many fish and seafood lost. The wetlands shrank and changed shape, which would also affect wildlife depending by instinct where to live and grow. The oil spill has been cleaned up, but the aftermath will take years to recover—and sometimes land does not recover and wildlife is lost. There still may be volunteer opportunities for kids to get involved with their parents’ help. The best way is through educating yourself about oil spills and how to use less oil at home so we are not so dependent on drilling and importing oil.

Click on the links below to learn more about how the oil spill happened, why the wetlands are disappearing, why some animals continue to be endangered after the oil spill and what you can do to help.