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Ultraviolet-assisted oiling assessment improves detection of oiled birds experiencing clinical signs of hemolytic anemia after exposure to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

August 12, 2020

While large-scale oil spills can cause acute mortality events in birds, there is increasing evidence that sublethal oil exposure can trigger physiological changes that have implications for individual performance and survival. Therefore, improved methods for identifying small amounts of oil on birds are needed. Because ultraviolet (UV) light can be used to identify thin crude oil films in water and on substrate that are not visually apparent under normal lighting conditions, we hypothesized that UV light could be useful for detecting small amounts of oil present on the plumage of birds. We evaluated black skimmers (Rynchops niger), brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis), clapper rails (Rallus crepitans), great egrets (Ardea alba), and seaside sparrows (Ammodramus maritimus) exposed to areas affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as well as from reference areas from 20 June, 2010 to 23 February, 2011. When visually assessed without UV light, 19.6% of birds evaluated from areas affected by the spill were determined to be oiled (previously published data), whereas when examined under UV light, 56.3% of the same birds were determined to have oil exposure. Of 705 individuals examined in areas potentially impacted by the spill, we found that fluorescence under UV light assessment identified 259 oiled birds that appeared to be oil-free on visual exam, supporting its utility as a simple tool for improving detection of modestly oiled birds in the field. Further, UV assessment revealed an increase in qualitative severity of oiling (approximate % of body surface oiled) in 40% of birds compared to what was determined on visual exam. Additionally, black skimmers, brown pelicans, and great egrets exposed to oil as determined using UV light experienced oxidative injury to erythrocytes, had decreased numbers of circulating erythrocytes, and showed evidence of a regenerative hematological response in the form of increased reticulocytes. This evidence of adverse effects was similar to changes identified in birds with oil exposure as determined by visual examination without UV light, and is consistent with hemolytic anemia likely caused by oil exposure. Thus, UV assessment proved useful for enhancing detection of birds exposed to oil, but did not increase detection of birds experiencing clinical signs of anemia compared to standard visual oiling assessment. We conclude that UV light evaluation can help identify oil exposure in many birds that would otherwise be identified visually as unexposed during oil spill events.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2020
Title Ultraviolet-assisted oiling assessment improves detection of oiled birds experiencing clinical signs of hemolytic anemia after exposure to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
DOI 10.1007/s10646-020-02255-8
Authors J. A. Fallon, E. P. Smith, N. Shoch, J. D. Paruk, E. A. Adams, D. C. Evers, Patrick Jodice, M. Perkins, D. E. Meatty, W. A. Hopkins
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecotoxicology
Index ID 70227268
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Atlanta

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