Several recent oil spills in the United States have had the potential to impact large numbers and multiple populations of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) and pinnipeds (seals and sea lions), namely the Macondo-252/Deepwater Horizon oil spill from April 2010, the Texas City Y event in March 2014, and the Refugio Beach oil spill in May 2015. In each of these spills, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and partners have engaged in significant activities during and following the spills, to both respond effectively to minimize impacts and assess the effects of oil spills on marine mammals. Experience gained during these spills has led to improved preparedness for future events with potential involvement of marine mammals. NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has developed the “National Pinniped and Cetacean Oil Spill Response Guidelines,” which are available online. These guidelines provide a broad national overview of response activities, a proposed organizational structure, and considerations to identify, recover, treat, and sample oiled and potentially oiled marine mammals. Further development of a response framework includes regional preparedness plans for marine mammals, based on the national guidelines but with regionally appropriate modifications to reflect local considerations, including species likely to be impacted, geographic concerns, and understanding of local cultural practices. Efforts are underway to improve training opportunities through a national exercise plan and to track trained and qualified individuals for potential deployment. For assessment, NMFS and NOAA's National Ocean Service (NOS) have partnered to develop the “National Marine Mammal Oil Spill Assessment Guidelines” to facilitate early, efficient, and effective assessment of impacts from oil spills on marine mammals as part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process. This paper will outline the current status of these products and their role in marine mammal assessment and response in the U.S., raise awareness of marine mammals within oil spills, and identify potential resources for marine mammal response and assessment in other countries.
Improving preparedness for marine mammal oil spill response and assessment in the United States
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Sarah M. Wilkin, Michael Ziccardi, Laurie Sullivan, Lori Schwacke, Susan Chivers, Tom Brosnan, Elizabeth Stratton, Sadie Wright, Teresa Rowles; Improving preparedness for marine mammal oil spill response and assessment in the United States. International Oil Spill Conference Proceedings 1 May 2017; 2017 (1): 2017228. doi: https://doi.org/10.7901/2169-3358-2017.1.000228
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