Life and death: How should we respond to oiled wildlife?

Laird A. Henkel, Michael H. Ziccardi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


There is ongoing public debate about the best course of action to take when wildlife are affected by oil spills. Critics of wildlife rehabilitation suggest that the cleaning and release of oiled animals is a waste of resources focused on individual animals (not populations); thus, the most responsible course of action is to immediately euthanize affected animals. These critics claim that survival of rehabilitated animals is poor, and that the funds spent on rehabilitation would benefit wildlife more if spent on other conservation efforts. In this opinion piece, with a focus on birds, we review reasons for engaging in a coordinated response to oiled wildlife that includes cleaning and rehabilitation. The reasons for responding to oiled wildlife in any capacity include ethical, human safety, and legal aspects. Our rationale for proposing that responders attempt to rehabilitate wildlife, rather than planning on immediate euthanasia, includes financial, scientific, and additional ethical reasons. Financially, costs for wildlife rehabilitation are typically a very small portion of overall oil-spill response costs, and are typically independent of postspill enforcement and funds used to restore injured natural resources. Scientifically, we review recent studies that have shown that animals cleaned and rehabilitated after oil spills can often survive as well as nonoiled control animals. Ethically, some people would consider individual animals to have intrinsic value and that we, as consumers of petroleum products, have an obligation to reduce suffering and mitigate injuries associated with such accidents. For these reasons, we suggest that, although humane euthanasia should always be considered as an option for animals unlikely to return to normal function after rehabilitation, response to oil spills should include a coordinated effort to attempt wildlife rehabilitation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)296-301
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Fish and Wildlife Management
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Oil Spills
  • Seabirds
  • Wildlife rehabilitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


Dive into the research topics of 'Life and death: How should we respond to oiled wildlife?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this