Hematological indices of injury to lightly oiled birds from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry
By: , and 



Avian mortality events are common following large‐scale oil spills. However, the sublethal effects of oil on birds exposed to light external oiling are not clearly understood. We found that American oystercatchers (area of potential impact n = 42, reference n = 21), black skimmers (area of potential impact n = 121, reference n = 88), brown pelicans (area of potential impact n = 91, reference n = 48), and great egrets (area of potential impact n = 57, reference n = 47) captured between 20 June 2010 and 23 February 2011 following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill experienced oxidative injury to erythrocytes, had decreased volume of circulating erythrocytes, and showed evidence of a regenerative hematological response in the form of increased reticulocytes compared with reference populations. Erythrocytic inclusions consistent with Heinz bodies were present almost exclusively in birds from sites impacted with oil, a finding pathognomonic for oxidative injury to erythrocytes. Average packed cell volumes were 4 to 19% lower and average reticulocyte counts were 27 to 40% higher in birds with visible external oil than birds from reference sites. These findings provide evidence that small amounts of external oil exposure are associated with hemolytic anemia. Furthermore, we found that some birds captured from the area impacted by the spill but with no visible oiling also had erythrocytic inclusion bodies, increased reticulocytes, and reduced packed cell volumes when compared with birds from reference sites. Thus, birds suffered hematologic injury despite no visible oil at the time of capture. Together, these findings suggest that adverse effects of oil spills on birds may be more widespread than estimates based on avian mortality or severe visible oiling.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Hematological indices of injury to lightly oiled birds from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
Series title Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry
DOI 10.1002/etc.3983
Volume 37
Issue 2
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Atlanta
Description 11 p.
First page 451
Last page 461
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details