Oil found on beaches of Magdalen Islands
Environmentalists dubbed it a ticking time bomb, and nobody knew when — or if — the Irving Whale oil barge would release its dangerous cargo. Toxic discoveries, legal delays and spiralling costs would all ensue before the Irving Whale saw the light of day — 26 years after sinking off Prince Edward Island in 1970.
• Oil spills can have serious effects on all types of sea life, but birds are often the hardest hit. Oil destroys the structure of a bird's feathers, which normally weave together to create a waterproof insulating layer. Without that protection, water penetrates through to the bird's skin, and the bird must use up its stores of fat to stay warm; it then must work harder to find food to replenish that fat.
• Birds also ingest the oil directly while preening (nibbling and rubbing their feathers), which normally keeps the feathers clean and waterproof. Toxic compounds in the oil damage the bird's lungs, liver, kidneys and intestines. However, birds affected by oil spills usually die of hypothermia, which happens when their body temperature goes too low.
• Environment Canada estimates that about 5,000 birds, mostly eiders, died as a result of the Irving Whale — not from its sinking in September 1970, but from a spill about six months earlier when a hatch came loose. Eiders are sea ducks which spend most of their time near land, and the slick had drifted across an eider feeding area.
• When an oil spill happens, volunteers often lend their time to clean affected birds and other sea life. The process is neither quick nor easy; birds which are sick enough to be caught are often very near death and must first be treated for depleted fat reserves and internal poisoning. Once these problems are treated, the bird's feathers are washed, a labour-intensive process that can take several days to complete.
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Dec. 4, 1981
Guest(s): Eric Leouzon
Host: Knowlton Nash
Reporter: Jill Birtwhistle
Last updated: June 21, 2012
Page consulted on December 6, 2013
All Clips from this Topic
Captain Sven Madsen surveys the damage as cleanup efforts begin.
A Prince Edward Island MP argues the Irving Whale should be raised due...
Residents of the islands near the site of the Irving Whale report find...
Fishermen and environmentalists aren't the only ones who worry what co...
Concerns about its potential for pollution prompt the government to sa...
Irving Oil discloses the presence of toxic PCBs on the Irving Whale, j...
Residents are wondering what to do with the 100,000 bags of PCB-laden ...
Diagrams show just how the Irving Whale was hoisted up.
A court injunction is granted due to the threat of toxic PCBs.
CBC's Quirks and Quarks explains what PCBs can do to the health of ani...
The Canadian Coast Guard and its team of workers are nearly ready to f...
The Irving Whale is brought to the surface and is found to be in remar...
Environmentalists dubbed it a ticking time bomb, and nobody knew when ...