Estimating actual seabirds mortality at sea and relationship with oil spills: lesson from the "Prestige" oilspill in Aquitaine (France)

Authors: I. CASTEGE, Y. LALANNE, V. GOURIOU, G. HEMERY, M. GIRIN, F. D´AMICO, C. MOUCHES, J. D´ELBEE, L. SOULIER, J. PENSU, D. LAFITTE and F. PAUTRIZEL

E-mail: iker.castege@univ-pau.fr

Published: Volume 54(2), December 2007. Pages 289-307.

Language: English

Keywords: Oil spill, "Prestige", impact, seabirds, mortality estimate, drift experiment and capture-recapture

Summary:

Aims: Estimations were made of seabirds mortality at sea and drift in relationship with oil arrival during the "Prestige" oilspill.

Location: South Bay of Biscay (Aquitaine), South-West France.

Methods: Meteorological data (Météo France) with the amount of hydrocarbons collected along the coast line (CEDRE), number of beached seabirds (UMSOM, DIREN) and their distribution and abundance on wintering areas at sea (MNHN-LAPHY), to assess the joint drift of oiled animals and of hydrocarbons in the south Bay of  Biscay (Aquitaine) during the "Prestige" oilspill. For the first time at the time of an oil slick, we experimentally dropped into the open sea (off the French basco-landaise coast) ringed corpses of guillemots Uria aalge in order to estimate by capture-recaptures approach the rate of reported bodies (1 over 121) at the coast and thus to appreciate the total mortality of the populations of seabirds (UPPA-MNHN).

Results: It is estimated that seabirds mortality was eleven times the amount of beached birds collected on the Aquitaine coasts. That result was in accordance with the decrease in the number of guillemots (the most beached species) observed at sea after the "Prestige" shipwreck.

Conclusions: It is demonstrated that the pooling of databases of different natures and origins was necessary to assess the impact of oil spill pollutions, such as those of "Erika" and "Prestige", on the animal populations and more generally for marine biodiversity conservation.

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