Honestly, such a number is almost impossible to calculate. “Animals” can apply from anything to krill and other zooplankton to the blue whales which eat them. Hard estimates of how many total “animals” killed by spills are simply not available. Some studies have been done around specific oil spills and specific animal types — usually larger, charismatic, and more easily counted species, like birds and marine mammals and fishes. For an example of sheer magnitude of the damage, one estimate of the total number of birds killed by the Exxon Valdez spill is 90,000-270,000 individuals. Furthermore, that’s a 180,000-bird gap in between estimates — and birds are comparatively easy to count. Imagine trying to make an estimate of the number of bottom-dwelling invertebrates killed. The sad fact is, it’s bound to be a gigantic number, but nobody can really tell you what it is.
This is a very hard number to measure. The numbers are probably even higher than those posted above by Rickken, because those are just the estimates of animals killed immediately following massive oil spills. A study in 2002 from the journal Nature suggests that many animals may die over a period of time following oil spills, even smaller ones which are considered relatively harmless in comparison to large spills such as the Exxon-Valdez. The author of the study found while relatively few animals were killed immediately following the spill of about 800,000 gallons of oil off the Galapagos island of Santa Fe, within a year, 62% of the island’s iguanas had died off while other neighboring islands did not see such a decline. These longer-term effects are not included in statistics about oil spills because they are incredibly difficult to measure, and these effects have not really been studied until very recently.
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