Oil Spill’s Effect on Turtles and Toads

  • David Mifsud releasing a Midland painted turtle after rehabilitation. (Photo courtesy of Herpetological Resource and Management)

Crews are still out on the Kalamazoo River cleaning up oil from last summer’s spill.

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Enbridge Energy Partners recently revised its estimate of how much oil spilled from its pipeline into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. They revised it upward to more than 840,000 gallons.

Right now, crews are focusing on cleaning the contaminated soil.

It’s not clear what the long term impacts will be on wildlife.

After the spill, rescue teams collected more than 2,400 birds, mammals, fish and reptiles… and took them to a rehab center to have the oil cleaned off. Most of the animals brought into the center survived.

David Mifsud is a herpetologist. He was hired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help with the initial wildlife recovery.

He says turtles made up the majority of wildlife rescued from the spill site.

“We had some, their mouths were so tacky with the oil they could barely open their mouths. We saw some pretty devastating things.”

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He says most of the turtles brought to the rehab center survived and were released within the watershed. But more than 400 of them were too weak to be released before winter. So they’re still being held at the rehab center.

And Mifsud says it’s not clear how hard amphibians were hit by the spill. He says frogs and toads breathe through their skin, so oil… not so good for them.

“Amphibians, we only collected 50-60 animals. They would’ve just died very quickly. So we probably lost in these areas huge numbers of our amphibian populations.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service is planning to monitor the health of the wildlife and the levels of contamination that remain in the Kalamazoo River area.

It’ll probably take years to fully understand the impacts of the oil spill.


This is the Environment Report.

Sea lampreys are invasive parasites found in every one of the Great Lakes. It’s a fish with a round mouth like a suction cup. It latches onto big fish like trout and salmon… and kills them by drinking their blood.

It costs fisheries managers in the U.S. and Canada 20 million dollars a year to control the lamprey.

There’s one secret weapon in development that could eventually save them money… pheromones. Those are odors that male lampreys release to attract the female lampreys.

The lamprey research team in Michigan is starting its third and final year of testing these pheromones in the lab and in the field.

Nick Johnson is a lamprey researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey in Hammond Bay. So Nick, you’re a lamprey matchmaker of sorts?

NJ: (laughs) Of course, yes. I’ve dedicated the last six years to getting lampreys together, not on the spawning nests but into lamprey traps.

RW: Why would you use pheromones?

NJ: Well, pheromones are typically species specific, so they should have minimal impact to other species, they’re highly potent, effective at very low concentrations. So once they’re developed they could be applied relatively cheaply and with little environmental impact.

RW: How’s the testing going so far?

NJ: So far, after two years, traps with synthesized pheromone are capturing more lampreys – right now it’s about 30% more lampreys than the unbaited traps. So we’re encouraged by the results.

RW: Do you think that pheromones will be something of a silver bullet?

NJ: It’s likely that pheromones will not eliminate lampreys from the Great Lakes. What we hope is that the integration of pheromones and the current control techniques will help integrate the overall control program, making our control program more efficient and more effective.

RW: Nick Johnson is a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey at Hammond Bay. Thank you so much!

NJ: Thank you, Rebecca.

RW: That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.