Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

October 31, 1984

1984 – Puerto Rican – San Francisco, CA

Nearly 2,000 murres among bird victims in 1984 Puerto Rican spill

Just after dawn on October 31, 1984, the oil tanker T/V Puerto Rican exploded offshore of San Francisco and released nearly 1.5 million gallons of oil near the Farallon Islands.

At least 1,856 Common Murres, 548 Cassin’s Auklets, and 176 Arctic Loons died during the spill. The oil spill came during the non-breeding season when Common Murres float in the sea making them more susceptible in a oil spill. The oil continued to leak from the vessel over a two-week period.
The stern area of the ship later sunk with 365,500 gallons of bunker fuel that reportedly leaked for several years following the incident.

An IBRRC response team helped care for the oiled birds. During this spill net-bottom caging for seabirds was conceived by IBRRC Director, Jay Holcomb. This caging allowed birds to be treated without developing major keel sores that was so evident in early oil spill responses.

According to a U.S. Coast Guard report:
The ship exploded 20 miles offshore releasing approximately 1,470,000 million gallons of oil (lube oil, lube oil additives, and bunker oil).

• The spill reached Farallon Islands and vicinity of Bodega Bay and south past San Francisco.
• An estimated 2,874 seabirds died. Also unknown damage to water quality, fishery resources, marine mammals, and human uses.

• In 1985, the USCG had recovered a little more than 61,000 gallons during cleanup operations
• The stern section sunk 17 km south of Farallon Islands at 37° 30.6′ N 123° 2’W

Bird facts

  • Birds treated – 624
  • Died/Euthanized – 309
  • Released – 315
  • Release rate – 50%

Common Murres have a penguin-like appearance. They use wings to dive under water for cod and herring. Murres are extremely sensitive to oil spills as these birds spend most of the non-breedding season at sea. Major oil spills along central California coast have had a significant impact on their populations.

Also see Farallones Marine Sanctuary Fact Sheet on spill: http://www.farallones.org/documents/TVPuertoRican.pdf

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