Chronic Sub-lethal Effects Observed in Wild-Caught Fishes Following Two Major Oil Spills in the Gulf of Mexico: Deepwater Horizon and Ixtoc 1

  • Erin L. PulsterEmail author
  • Adolfo Gracia
  • Susan M. Snyder
  • Kristina Deak
  • Susan Fogelson
  • Steven A. Murawski


During and subsequent to major oil spill events, considerable attention focuses on charismatic and economic megafauna – and especially fishes – and visual manifestations of impacts upon them. Beginning with a series of tanker accidents occurring in Europe and the USA in the 1970s–1990s, greater awareness of the potential for both acute and chronic sub-lethal impacts on fish populations has focused on exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The ambiguity of acute impacts observed during the Deepwater Horizon and Ixtoc 1 incidents has promoted considerable new research on alternative toxic endpoints that portend short- and long-term sub-lethal outcomes that influence the overall fitness of exposed populations. Laboratory-based exposure studies have traditionally focused on acute mortality-based endpoints (e.g., lethal concentrations at which 50% of the population dies = LC50) and observed at test concentrations normally exceeding environmentally relevant concentrations in real-world spills. Consequently, using laboratory-based toxicity experiments can be problematic inferring impacts on wild fish populations. In this chapter we review historical and more recent information documenting changes in abundance, recruitment, habitat use, population dynamics, trophic changes, and various physiologically based sub-lethal effects on oil-exposed fishes and especially consider research undertaken following the Deepwater Horizon and Ixtoc 1 spills in the Gulf of Mexico.


PAHs Oil-exposed fish Sub-lethal effects Population fitness LC50 



This research was made possible by a grant from The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative through the Center for the Integrated Modeling and Analysis of the Gulf Ecosystem (C-IMAGE I, II and III). Final data will be publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at (doi 10.7266/N7PG1PRZ, doi 10.7266/N7T43R3T, doi 10.7266/N7GT5K56, doi 10.7266/N7G73C4N, doi:10.7266/n7-g27a-x012, doi:10.7266/n7-nmsy-tq94, doi:10.7266/n7-460y-rz32, 10.7266/n7-5zt3-8c72, 10.7266/n7-t3g7-sk92, 10.7266/n7-qjz0-bt64, 10.7266/n7-5y5c-9348).


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erin L. Pulster
    • 1
    Email author
  • Adolfo Gracia
    • 2
  • Susan M. Snyder
    • 1
  • Kristina Deak
    • 1
    • 3
  • Susan Fogelson
    • 4
  • Steven A. Murawski
    • 1
  1. 1.University of South Florida, College of Marine ScienceSt. PetersburgUSA
  2. 2.Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Instituto de Ciencias del Mar y LimnologíaMéxico CityMexico
  3. 3.Florida Fish and Wildlife Research InstituteSt. PetersburgUSA
  4. 4.Fishhead LabsStuartUSA

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