Oil spilled from the Exxon Valdez has entered Shelikof Strait and fouled beaches all along the Katmai National Park, according to the park superintendent and reports from the U.S. Coast Guard.
"Over the last two days . . . we've discovered a very large amount of oil debris inside of Shelikof Straits," said Park Superintendent Ray Bane. "We had a report two days ago of a sheen at least 22 miles long and 10 miles wide . . .
"Today, we discovered a fairly continuous slick of mousse and sheen, pretty heavy stuff, really, from Hallo Bay to Katmai Bay. Roughly, that's about 50 miles. That slick is making landfall in very heavy impacts at Katmai Bay and Hallo Bay, and all along the headlands."
The Shelikof Strait is a body of water about 30 miles wide between Kodiak Island and the Alaska Peninsula.
The Exxon Valdez ran aground on a well charted reef near Bligh Island in Prince William Sound early on the morning of March 24, spilling more than 10 million gallons of crude oil. In the ensuing month, the slick has crept out of the Sound southeast along the Kenai Peninsula and entered the mouth of Cook Inlet. Everywhere it has gone, the oil has left a trail of sick and dead birds and sea mammals.
Bad weather had hampered attempts to track the spill last week. The weather cleared this weekend and planes went out to search for the oil again.
A Coast Guard spokesman said spill trackers on an overflight Sunday reported large patches of mousse and sheen in Shelikof Strait. The Soviet skimmer Vaydaghubsky is working in the strait.
Bane said the park service has found dead, oiled birds all along the coast. "At one spot, we counted in a short stretch of beach 103 dead murres," he said. "They were covered to a point where you almost couldn't recognize the species they were . . . (but) we've been finding birds virtually every place we've got oil.
"We're also seeing the wildlife tracks along the beaches, tracks of bears going through the debris, and in the same neighborhood tracks of foxes and wolves, though not in the oil."
No dead predators have turned up yet, but Bane said that's probably because they wouldn't stay on the beaches to die. "Most of the creatures you'll find are the sea life. They live in the water or along the coast, and that's where they'll huddle (to die)."
Bane said he doesn't know how many miles of the park's shoreline have been hit by oil. "It's the vast majority of it, though," he said. "The impact stretches from Shaw Island, on the north side of Cape Douglas, all the way to our southern boundary, and now we've had reports it's been found in Wide Bay, south of us."
That's a distance of about 200 miles along the Alaska Peninsula.
"I don't see how anyone is ever going to totally clean it up through human effort," he said. "Sure, there are places where we can mitigate it, but it's a lot of work to get all that oil off the beaches.
"We have heavy cobble beaches, where we have rocks that weigh over a ton, and there's oil stuffed up under those. And we have sandy beaches that stretch for miles. This is a tremendously complex coastline, and it's also one of the most beautiful in the world . . .
"Mama Nature will eventually work on this stuff and finally get it under control, but that could be a long time coming."
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