An experimental study of the effects of chemically dispersed oil on feather structure and waterproofing in Common Murres (Uria aalge)

Emily R. Whitmer, Becky A. Elias, Danielle J Harvey, Michael H Ziccardi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Scopus citations


Following an oil spill in the marine environment, chemical dispersants, which increase oil droplet formation and distribution into the water column, are assumed to provide a net benefit to seabirds by reducing the risk of exposure to oil on the water surface. However, few data are available regarding acute, external impacts of exposure to dispersed oil. We evaluated the effects of known concentrations of dispersant and crude oil in artificial seawater on live Common Murres (Uria aalge). Waterproofing and microscopic feather geometry were evaluated over time and compared to pre-exposure values. Birds exposed to a high concentration of dispersant experienced an immediate, life-threatening loss of waterproofing and buoyancy, both of which resolved within 2 d. Birds exposed to oil, or a dispersant and oil mixture, experienced dose-dependent waterproofing impairment without resolution over 2 d. Alterations in feather geometry were observed in oil-exposed or dispersant- and oil-exposed birds and were associated with increased odds of waterproofing impairment compared to control birds. At a given contaminant concentration, there were no significant differences in waterproofing between oil-exposed and dispersant- and oil-exposed birds. We found that acute, external effects of oil and dispersed oil exposure are comparable and dose-dependent. Our results also indicate that a zero-risk assumption should not be used when seabirds are present within the dispersant application zone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)315-328
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Wildlife Diseases
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2018



  • Common Murre
  • Corexit 9500A®
  • Crude oil
  • Dispersant
  • Feather structure
  • Oil spill
  • Seabird
  • Waterproofing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology

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