Following an oil spill off St Paul Island, Alaska in February 1996, persistence rates and detection probabilities of oiled king eider (Somateria spectabilis) carcasses were estimated using the Cormack-Jolly-Seber model. Carcass persistence rates varied by day, beach type and sex, while detection probabilities varied by day and beach type. Scavenging, wave action and weather influenced carcass persistence. The patterns of persistence differed on rock and sand beaches and female carcasses had a different persistence function than males. Weather, primarily snow storms, and degree of carcass scavenging, diminished carcass detectability. Detection probabilities on rock beaches were lower and more variable than on sand beaches. The combination of persistence rates and detection probabilities can be used to improve techniques of estimating total mortality.