HARD AGROUND - Wreck of the Exxon Valdez - March 24, 1989

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SOUND MURRES RECOVERED, EXXON-PAID SCIENTISTS SAY

By DAVID WHITNEY
Daily News reporter

Anchorage Daily News
Date: 04/29/93
Day: Thursday
Edition: Final
Section: Nation
Page: A1

ATLANTA- Exxon-financed researchers told a scientific conference here Wednesday that they found no evidence that the murre population has crashed since the 1989 Alaska oil spill. Exxon's presentation to the American Society for Testing and Materials directly contradicts government scientists, who have reported that the cliff- nesting seabirds have been decimated since the spill in Prince William Sound.

Robert Spies, the chief scientist advising government trustees overseeing the sound's restoration and chairman of Wednesday's session, told the conference that government researchers believe the murres were so devastated by the spill that it will take anywhere from two decades to a century for them to recover.

But in keeping with the general thrust of their presentations at the four- day ASTM conference, Exxon scientists said their research shows that there was only temporary disruption for the seabirds.

Earlier in the day, Exxon scientists said that sea otters also quickly recovered to prespill levels. Dr. David Garshelis of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, who did his doctoral research on Prince William Sound sea otters, said he found twice as many otters after the spill than government researchers reported.

"The long-range prospects for Prince William Sound sea otters are good," he said.

Murres have been cited by government scientists as one of the leading indicators of long-lasting damage from the spill.

Exxon researchers did not dispute claims that tens of thousands of murres were killed in the spill. But they said the seabirds quickly recovered and that nesting patterns a year later were within historic ranges for the years prior to the spill.

P. Dee Boersma, a University of Washington zoology professor whose research was financed by Exxon, said that 1990 Barren Islands murre populations were within ranges identified by researchers before the spill.

The Barren Islands, hit hard by the spill, are a major nesting site for murres.

Government researchers reported at a February spill symposium in Anchorage that as much as 80 percent of the Barren Islands murre population was wiped out by the spill.

Michael Fry, an assistant research physiologist at the University of California's Davis school of veterinary medicine, said government oil-spill trustees for whom he has worked have reached very different conclusions.

"It's difficult to understand what's going on," he said. "We've seen big differences."

Exxon described Boersma's findings as a major report of the four-day conference. Boersma is associate director of the University of Washington's Institute for Environmental Studies and a leading advisor to the U.S. and foreign governments on oil pollution and other issues. For the last decade, she has done research for the New York Zoological Society and the Wildlife Conservation Society studying the potential threats to penguins off the coast of South America.

Boersma said she is concerned that bad federal science is leading to bad decisions on restoration in Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska.

She said government trustees plan to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars this summer restoring murre populations that are, at least on the Barren Islands, at historic levels.

"That's ridiculous," she said. She said the money from Exxon's $1 billion damage settlement with Alaska and the federal government could be more wisely spent on wildlife habitat acquisition and protection.


Story Index:
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Overall: story 260 of 380 Previous Next
The Legacy story 45 of 72 Previous Next

   
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