ignorée des
oiseaux marins
causée par la

Les oiseaux de
mer de la côte est
du Canada sont
victimes de la
pollution aux
provenant soit
directement des
bateaux, soit
des activités
associées à
l'exploration et
au forage
en mer.

Cet article discute
les ressources
limitées pour le
contrôle de
la mortalité des
oiseaux marins,
ainsi que la Loi
canadienne sur
la marine

L'auteure Janet
Russell affirme:
"Malgré qu'il
serait relativement
facile de prévenir
la mortalité des
oiseaux marins
par la pollution
le  Canada
continue à
permettre ce
massacre sans
adopter des
pour y mettre fin,
ni même se
préoccuper de
l'ampleur du





Tanker Spill

(photo: J.Hrusa,









































"The two main
human sources
of oil on the sea
surface are
shipping and
offshore oil
activity. Oil from
these sources
enters the
ocean both by
intent and by














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Untold Seabird Mortality
due to Marine Oil Pollution

Janet Russell
eabird Biologist/Broadcaster
, 2000


eabirds evolved to swim in water, not oil. Even so, many of the seabirds frequenting the waters off the island of Newfoundland swim in fossil fuels. When they do, the encounter is often fatal. Oiled feathers lose their insulation value and birds suffer hypothermia and/or complications due to ingestion of the oil while preening.

(photo: Sea Empress Oil Spill)


A dead scoter seabird


The two main human sources of oil on the sea surface are shipping and offshore oil activity. Oil from these sources enters the ocean both by intent and by accident. The Shipping Act makes it illegal for a ship to discharge fluid with greater than 15 parts per million of oil into the water. So if you can see oil on the water it’s an offence under the Shipping Act. Dirty ballast and bilge must be treated before entering the water or be offloaded onshore. Facilities onboard can treat bilge if they’re working, but they often aren’t. Onshore in Newfoundland the treatment options (if present at all) are limited, time consuming and costly.

The Canada Shipping Act was the traditional set of rules applied to marine oil pollution until the creation of the Canada Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board (aka CNOPB or the Board). Transport Canada, through the Canadian Shipping Act, remains responsible for prosecuting ships that pollute the sea with oil. However, Offshore Oil activity that pollutes the sea with oil is under the authority of the CNOPB. While Transport Canada does pursue a number of polluters through the courts, the CNOPB takes a more tolerant approach towards the polluter.

For example, while Transport Canada prosecuted the vessel Nordholt on February 14, 2000 and her owners were fined $35,000 for spilling 15 litres of oil, the CNOPB finds similar spills in the offshore oil patch acceptable. According to a CNOPB media release dated January 21, 2000: 
"Sightings reported on Tuesday, January 11, and Wednesday, January 19 are both under investigation by the Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board. It is estimated that the first sheen involved some 15 litres of synthetic based fluids (SBF) used as drilling lubricants, and reports of the second sighting indicate that the volume of fluids in that sheen was considerably less… The Board also monitors and investigates incidents of spills of other fluids from offshore operations to determine the causes of such incidents and their potential effect on the environment. Since the start of Grand Banks oil production in 1997, a total of 92 incidents have been reported and investigated, and most of these have involved very small quantities of fluid (less than 10 litres). While some incidents are still under active investigation, none of the completed investigations indicated any evidence of operator neglect or disregard for safety and environmental regulations."

"Seabirds off Canada’s
east coast are currently
victimized by fossil fuel
pollution both by ship
source oil pollution and
activities associated with
offshore oil exploration
and development."

The public hears next to nothing about oil and seabirds in the offshore oil patch. The reference to the size of most rig spills as small in the above CNOPB news release suggests that they are also of small consequence. This is in contrast to wording in another CNOPB document, which acknowledges that the size of a spill is not a good predictor of the consequences to seabirds. A small spill in association with an aggregation of birds can lead to large seabird mortality while a large spill where there are no birds may disappear without killing any birds. In the CNOPB’s response to the Terra Nova Development Application, they clearly stated, "The Board observes that seabirds may be affected by oil spills which may be associated with the Project, and that the severity of these effects may not be directly related to the size of an individual spill." (Decision 97.02).

In the offshore oil patch the use of traditional oil based drill fluids is being displaced by use of water based and synthetic based drill fluids. The dumping of these overboard in association with drill cuttings is permitted and the waters around offshore oil rigs often contain these materials.

(photo: Sea Empress Oil Spill)


Oiled Cormorant


According to the CNOPB media release, "Synthetic based drilling fluids are approved for use as lubricants in offshore drilling activity. They are non-toxic to marine life, and disperse quickly in the ocean. While potentially they can be harmful to any sea-birds which may come into contact with a sheen, no such incidents have been reported to date."

Since there is no independent monitoring of seabird mortality in the offshore oil patch which would provide reports of such incidents, the absence of reports is not evidence for the non-existence of such events. As sea birds are attracted to offshore drilling platforms the likelihood that they would encounter the pollution often present around a rig is high. The current lack of independent monitoring of this situation allows seabird mortality around offshore oil installations to continue without quantification and leaves the public with the naive assumption that birds are unaffected by offshore oil activity.

It is difficult to know how many thousands of salt water birds die each year off Newfoundland from ship source oil pollution or offshore oil installation discharges. A recent drift block experiment suggests that most birds oiled at sea sink there - never to wash up on a beach and be counted. Francis Wiese is a Ph.D. candidate at Memorial University of Newfoundland. On February 22 of this year he dropped 2047 orange wooden blocks off the East coast of Newfoundland. The blocks were designed to float like a bird. Only about 200 have been recovered from beaches, most showing up weeks and months after the original drop. By that time oiled birds would no longer be floating. In the first few weeks of floating, only 3 blocks made it to shore and were detected. These drift block experiments will continue this coming winter.

So far the drift block experiments tell us that most birds oiled off our coast remain out of sight and out of mind. This is especially true for the offshore oil patch. Birds oiled out there would likely never show up on a beach. In fact, the oil industry is quick to point out that the birds found oiled on Newfoundland beaches are oiled from ship source oil pollution. The suggestion is that offshore oil activity has not been a source of significant seabird mortality due to oiling. This is a classic example of the absence of data being twisted into a false assumption of "no effect".

Birds killed by ship source oil pollution near enough to shore and under the right wind conditions will show up on beaches. The Canadian Wildlife Service does regular patrols of certain beaches to find oiled birds and count them. Offshore there is no independent monitoring for the oiling of birds at sea. The offshore oil platforms are a suspected source of seabird mortality but without independent monitoring there is no way to know how many seabirds they kill. The oil industry off Newfoundland operates in the absence of any independent observers on the rigs. So there is no data on seabird mortality around offshore oil activity and therefore the industry continues to escape the growing sense of outrage directed toward ship source oil pollution and the associated waste of bird life.

(photo: Servco Environment)


Oiled Ducks
to be rescued


Seabirds off Canada’s east coast are currently victimized by fossil fuel pollution both by ship source oil pollution and activities associated with offshore oil exploration and development. The Canadian Wildlife Service has some (although limited) resources for monitoring the mortality of seabirds killed by oil near shore and they do this mainly through surveys for oiled birds on beaches. The CNOPB conducts no systematic independent survey for seabird mortality due to offshore oil activity. Although the killing of seabirds by marine oil pollution is largely preventable Canada continues to do it without taking obvious measures to prevent it or even know how much of it is going on.