Craig Matkin was interviewed on July 25, 2007 by Sharon Bushell. The location of the interview is unknown. However, because Craig lives in Homer, Alaska, it is likely the interview took place there. Craig's interview was conducted as part of Sharon Bushell's work on the book, The Spill: Personal Stories from the Exxon Valdez Disaster, by Stan Jones and Sharon Bushell. (Kenmore, WA: Epicenter Press, 2009). In this interview, Craig talks about helping lay boom for the oil spill response, Exxon wanting to pay him, and his scientific studies of the herring and killer whale populations. Craig also provides his assessment of the beach cleanup effort.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
Date of Interview: Jul 25, 2007
Narrator(s): Craig Matkin
Interviewer(s): Sharon Bushell
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Hearing about the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
Arriving in Prince William Sound after the spill
Helping to lay out protective boom at the Port San Juan fish hatchery
Getting involved with killer whale research after the oil spill
Working with film crew for NOVA and seeing lots of dead and oiled wildlife
Being hired to work on herring study
Getting paid by Exxon for use of his boat
Results of herring study
Killer whale research project
Assessment of beach cleanup and animal rescue
Human impact of the cleanup effort
Results of killer whale research and effect of oil spill on killer whale populations
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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
SHARON BUSHELL: So anyway, today is the 25th of July and I am interviewing Craig Matkin.
So tell me about your experiences with the oil spill, Craig.
CRAIG MATKIN: When I first heard that the spill had happened, I was in Seward.
And I was -- my boat was up on the land there.
And I was getting ready to go herring fishing because I've herring fished in Prince William Sound or I had then for the last previous 10 or 15 something years.
And I had the seine boat The Lucky Star.
And I was in the hold. I remember I had the radio going up there or I think I just flipped it on.
And then I was down, not in the hold, but in the bilge, working on bilge switch pumps, and that kind of stuff. And I heard this deal -- I remember hearing something about the world’s potential -- the world’s largest oil spill.
And I remember thinking oh my God where is that, you know. Is it -- this is some other thing that doesn’t impact me.
And then I heard Prince William Sound. I couldn’t hear the radio that well and I was like no way, you know, impossible.
And so I didn’t know for sure what I'd heard and I jumped out of there and there was a Coast Guard office back behind the boat. I remember. And I ran over there and said, "You guys hear about some oil spill?"
And they go, "Yeah, we heard about some oil spill. We're going to leave here. There's an oil spill in Prince William Sound." And I just went, "Oh, my God."
So, I think that was before cell phones. SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah. CRAIG MATKIN: Certainly it was before I had one.
And I remember having to go to the phone, and then try to call people and interestingly Rick Steiner was one of the first people I got a hold of.
And he said, "Yeah, I’m flying out really soon and we're going to take a look at this thing." And he said, "You better get your boat in the water.
And so I went, oh, boy, well, this is -- and I was sort of ready to go, but I got real ready. And then I realized I can’t just put it in the water and leave, I do need to have somebody with me.
Olga, my wife at the time and I had a one year old. I think one and a half year old Ellie, who was -- they were at home.
And so I had to call them and said, "Look, I think I’m leaving to go out to the Sound . I got to figure out what's going on, and, you know, and I'm going to put the boat in the water."
And Olga was like "Well, I’m not staying." You know.
So -- so at any rate she brought Ellie and I got the boat in the water and we just took off and headed across.
And we came in the western entrance to Prince William Sound, since we went out of Seward. You got to cut across the Gulf of Alaska -- takes eight hours or so for that boat.
It took eight hours or so to get across.
We came into the western entrance and we didn’t know what was going on, you know. We didn’t know what stage things were at.
So what we did is pulled into Port San Juan Hatchery, which was sort of in that far southwest corner of the Sound.
And people running around like chickens with their heads cut off, and there at Chenega Village and at the hatchery.
And everybody's going well we got to protect this place cause the oil's coming this way, they say.
And it'd been -- now by the time we got out there I think it'd been a couple days since the actual spill.
It wasn’t immediate that I could out of Seward. And there might have even -- oh, you know, in fact I think what happened was, yeah, we ended up not getting out before the storm.
You know, there was a like a 24 hour period -- so a fair bit of time, maybe 36, where it's flat calm and the oil was just on the water and then it blew. SHARON BUSHELL: Right.
CRAIG MATKIN: And we -- we were about to go, and then we got this forecast it was going to blow like crazy.
And so rather than run out ahead of it we decided we better wait, because we had to cross the Gulf .
So we ended up running out just after the storm.
And so it didn’t -- by the time we really got out to the Sound it'd been a few days probably.
And so we got there and we got to Port San Juan, and like I said they were just running around like crazy with -- and there were helicopters flying in and dumping this boom material.
And there was one other boat -- a bow picker and they were dumping the boat -- the booms and they were loading it -- I got in there immediately. You know you’re drafted. They need everybody, you know, everybody's running in and doing whatever.
And so we started loading this boom on this bow picker, and then we go out and try to hook it together. Nobody had any idea how this stuff worked. It was ridiculous.
And all parts of it didn’t fit with other parts. And so what we were trying to do is boom off the hatchery. The hatchery's back in this bay.
We're trying to boom off the passage so that the oil would go by and wouldn’t come in. Cause they had all these fish that they were -- had in the water in these pens.
And so we were trying to protect the fish and I’m a fisherman so obviously that's one of the first things on my mind.
And so I didn’t go right up to the spill site. I was down there. And then this at this point -- it was after the storm, they said well the oil is moving this way, you know, and it’s coming -- it’s coming, you know.
And so for about three days I did that, and hooked boom together. And I remember, God, how did that work? There was -- somehow I ended up doing interviews with Joe Gallagher at KBBI during that period.
I don’t know -- it must have been at the phone at the hatchery in the evening or something, but somehow or another I ended up getting hooked up with Joe Gallagher. And so I was talking to him quite a bit about everything we were doing.
And so that went on for a couple days anyway. And we’d hear rumors about where the oil was and how it was coming and blah, blah.
And finally -- oh, somebody told me the oil's now in Knight Island Passage -- some boat came in. Because now we had more boats coming in and there was more people coming around -- other fishermen that I knew.
And somebody said, yeah, I just came down and the oil's in Kni -- coming down Island Passage and there's killer whales out there.
And since I've studied killer whales and had for four or five years before that time, as well as doing the fishing, I was doing that on the side. And that was my graduate work revolved around marine mammals at UAF.
So I went, oh, my God, I got to go out and see what's going on.
So we took off in the boat and headed up to lower Knight Island Passage and I had -- Ellie and Olga were still out there. They ended up staying for about five or six days before they ended up going in, but at this point they were still in the boat.
And we went up and into lower Knight Island Passage, and sure enough we found killer whales. And sure enough there was oil coming down.
And what we saw were sheens and light slicks. It wasn’t like the heavy mousse type stuff yet.
But the killer whales were coming up in this oil. And it was the first like, oh shit, they aren’t avoiding this stuff.
In fact, I'm writing a paper right now about the oil spill 18 years after and killer whales and whatnot and one of the things I’m putting out there are all the details of how we've watched that they don’t avoid oil.
And that was my first example of it. And there were quite a few killer whales.
And then we went around and we know them all by the dorsal fins and saddle patches. And we started identifying them as AB Pod, which is the pod we saw most frequently at that time in the Sound.
Thirty-five animals and they were -- they're pretty spread out, but going through these slicks and it was weird. And there were helicopters flying around by then. This is now like six days after the spill.
And there're helicopters. There's boats. It's just bizarre sort of aura to the whole thing.
And it was sort of cloudy, and I just remember feeling like it was, you know,
that -- that kind of feeling you get like this isn’t real. This isn’t the way I've usually see this place. And there's something wrong. And you could smell the oil, too. That, I think, had a lot to do with it -- was the smell. And I remember Olga
smelling it and it's what she ended up leaving. She didn’t end up wanting to get into the oil with the baby and all the odor. It was -- it was pretty bad actually.
And so we started doing the photo ID thing. It's always the first thing I'd do when I get on killer whales. And I’m taking pictures of each one. I’m to document who's there and who's not.
And pretty soon we realized there're a bunch of missing animals here. And we figured out some of them that were missing, but we couldn’t figure them all out.
They were spread out. I mean it's just hard to figure it when you’re there, but that's why you take the pictures so you can look at them later and see just who all is missing. But we knew there were at least four or five.
It turned out there were seven missing altogether. And at that point in time.
And so we sort of went into a little bit of a tailspin and a panic about where these animals were because they were -- they were young animals. They weren’t animals that should've been missing.
Not like old animals that would die.
So that's sort of what happened and then it got crazy. I had -- I went back -- there were all these helicopters flying around and I got calls on the radio. People wanted me to go behind this island. They want to talk to me.
I had film crews coming out. I knew some film people then. And -- I don’t know -- everybody was asking about who was out at the spill. They found out I was out there. So NOVA wanted me to do this deal. Fish & Game wanted me to charter for them.
A guy -- Rick Rosenthal, a filmmaker who I knew pretty well, had gotten a hold of me and a friend of mine who flew -- flew him in.
And he got on the boat and said, "Look, I really want to get this rolling and I want to do it now. And will you help me do this?" So I said,"Sure. You know I got to finish up with these killer whales and then,
you know, tonight come back in and we'll take off and we'll start filming or doing whatever you need to do." So we did that. He came back
and we started filming. And he said, you know, we’ll get your boat paid for or whatever I mean don’t worry about it. We’ll figure it out because
NOVA wants me to do it along with these other people. And so
we started doing that. And then we had this director who started flying out and telling us what we were supposed to do.
First, we were going up and filming animals in the oil up around Herring Bay. It was unbelievable. You couldn’t even go into Herring Bay hardly on northern Knight Island. You couldn’t breathe.
And that we've ran into these guys who had been sent out from Cordova as wildlife rescue guys. They were fishermen I knew and they were going, my God, they gave us thing to put on the boat.
And it was this deal that was supposed to register how much hydrocarbon material was in the air. And the thing was off the scale. They’re going we don’t know if we should be in here or not.
He said, and I don’t know if you guys should go in here because you can’t hardly breathe, you know. It was -- it was awful.
And there were sea otters in the oil and we followed them up into this -- we followed the oil up into this corner of the bay and there was just dead wildlife. You could see animals -- you wouldn’t recognize really sea otters,
because they were so covered with oil it was like, you know, there'd be like this stream of oily crap.
And you didn’t know what was garbage, what was sea otters, what was, you know.
There was land otters in there. All sorts of things and these guys were supposedly picking them up -- the animal rescue guys. And most of them were dead in this instance.
And it was just -- it was hideous. It was a mess.
And Rick was trying to find something other than just dead otters in the oil. He wanted -- and also birds.
There were a lot of birds in these -- these strips of oil -- these tiderips of oil.
So we -- and these guys were supposed to all pick these up. Pick up the dead ones. Save the live ones. It was ridiculous.
You know, they couldn’t -- they didn’t know what they were doing. They were just sent out with no training, no nothing.
So we did that a bit, but we had the director from this NOVA program come in.
And she was upset because we were all filming a bunch of oil and wildlife and she wanted us to interview people.
Like Denny Kelso, the big names. He was the head of DEC then. And who else was out there?
I just remember him because she had us running all over trying to find Denny Kelso.
And it was like you got to be kidding me.
And Rick Rosenthal, he's getting more and more irritated with this.
And she's saying we're going to cut off the money. And, you know, he didn’t have any money to operate on other than what I -- apparently what NOVA was promising they would give him.
And so he's going my God I don’t want to do this. I’m supposed to run around --
And finally we just said to heck with it. We're going to go do our own thing. This is after five or six days of filming.
And filming Denny Kelso finally, which was a big disappointment. Nice guy, but he didn’t know anything.
He was sitting on the State ferry out there -- hadn’t even seen the oil hardly, you know. It was like what --
SHARON BUSHELL: Now was he -- is he -- was he Fed or was he State DEC?
CRAIG MATKIN: He was State. SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah. CRAIG MATKIN: Yeah, State of Alaska.
He was the number one on site commander for the State kind of thing, you know.
And so we had a friend who had a floatplane. We called him. He came out -- Wendell Jones. We said we got to fly to town and figure out what's going on and what we can do that's more helpful than this. And so we flew to town.
And it was nuts. We got off the plane -- this floatplane and I mean there were people -- I went --
I knew Fish & Game people because I'd worked for Fish & Game, so I went in there. And there were just people lined up. At this point it must be at least 12 days after the oil spill or something like that -- 10, 12 days.
And we hadn’t been to town, you know, since we'd gotten out on it. And this is Cordova now we flew into, the center of the cyclone.
And all these people were at Fish & Game and trying to get their boats on. Everybody wanted their boats to be working out there. And, you know, Exxon had an office and there was a line going to the Exxon office that stretched down the road.
It was ridiculous. Everybody trying to figure out either what was going on or they heard boats were getting paid a lot. So they wanted --
so I went into Fish & Game and the guy I knew there just grabbed me and said oh we’re glad to see you. Where’s your boat?
Then I said well it's out in the Sound, because we need to do this study on herring and we need to do it right now.
And I said -- and I talked to Rick, and Rick actually, although he's a filmmaker, was also a fish biologist. He was a trained fish biologist. He did some great studies up here years ago.
And I said well I got Rick Rosenthal with me. We’ll go do the study. What do you need done? And it was a herring --
And they said fantastic because we can’t get any boats because Exxon's paying $4,000 a day for boats of your size and we can’t pay that.
And I said that’s fine. It’s not a big deal. He said we’ll pay the best charter rate we can, but, you know, it’s Fish & Game with the State, right? I said that’s fine, whatever.
And we'll pay you and we'll pay Rick.
So -- and we're going to put divers on board with -- And we said we need divers, so he said -- and Rick is a diver
and an instructor. And he said we need divers, because what we’re going to do is look at these areas where there's oil and herring and herring eggs and get the herring eggs
that were in the oily areas and also some in the unoily areas, send them down to Vancouver, and have them hatch them out to see if there's any problems with them.
And also look at the genetics within the eggs to see if there are any problems with that.
So at any rate so we were doing this.
In the meantime, somebody, you know, come up to me and said, "They're looking for you. They heard you were in town and they need you at the Exxon office."
And I said, "Need me at the Exxon office? I haven’t been to the Exxon office. All right, I haven’t even talked to Exxon. I don’t know anything about what they’re doing." Oh, no, they need you there. They know who you are and blah, blah, blah and I’m going, okay.
So I go up to the Exxon office and they go, oh, yeah, here we have a check for you for the first 10 days on the spill, you know. Here’s a check for $45,000.
And I just went you got to be kidding me.
And they said no you were out there at the very beginning and we’re trying to, you know, for that time you spent. We had helicopters writing down your boat name every day and what you were doing and all this blah, blah, blah.
You know, here’s a check. And I was just like oh, my God.
And we want you to stay on with us, you know. And I said I quit. I’m quitting. I’m working for Fish & Game. And they said you can’t do that.
I mean we're going to pay you $4,200 a day or whatever it was, you know, to be out there. And we’ll guarantee you work through October.
And you were one of the first ones out you get the first shot at this.
And I went that sounds nice. They said that doesn’t sound nice that’s sounds like $400,000 is what it sounds like.
And I said, you know, I’m doing this Fish & Game thing. And I don’t really want to work for Exxon. And besides that I’m going to try to get NMFS to fund killer whale work here,
and there's just no way I have time to do this. I said I’m really sorry because I would like to see this cleaned up, but I can’t do this.
And I just wouldn’t feel good working for you guys, anyway. And they said so you’re going to quit.
And I said, yeah I quit because they said you’re on -- you’re still on the payroll. And we aren’t going to wipe you off unless you go in and sign this stuff and quit.
So I did that. And then we went to work for Fish & Game and did the herring thing.
But the funny thing that I got to tell you. Okay, so this is a sidelight. Four months later -- not four months, three months later when I was at home. I ended up going back out. We did the herring study. We did killer whale work.
We did hauling dead animals around. We did all sorts of stuff. The boat was busy, but baically I was working for Fish & Game.
And then I ended up working National Marine Fisheries Service after that.
Well, but, I finally got a break after three months. I think I'd been out there -- other than my trip to Cordova -- I might have made two short trips to Cordova. But I was out on the spill basically for about three months before I went in.
Well, I go -- get home and there are all these phone calls and messages for me, you know, and one of the things was from the Exxon office in Valdez,
and it was like call immediate, you know, emergency. It wasn’t emergency, but very important.
So I called, and this guy, Toby, who I knew, another fisherman who was working the main guy in the Exxon office there.
I said -- so I said what’s up? And he goes well, God, we got this check here for you for $290,000. And I need to know where you want it sent.
And I need to, you know, have you just tell me, you know, like what was -- what were you do -- where were you -- were you out in the Sound the last three months? I said, yeah. And I said, what are you talking about, you know?
I -- you're doing Fish & Game thing? They don’t -- they're not paying that kind of money.
What the hell? He goes no, you’ve been on the Exxon thing since the beginning. I said I quit.
He goes oh nobody believed you quit. No one. No one quit. Everyone was fighting to get on. Nobody believed you quit.
No one quits when you get -- you know, and I said I quit.
And I said I told them I quit and signed a thing that I quit. Well, he said they threw that away, you know.
And he goes, just send me an explanation of what you were doing and I'll send you the check.
And I said look, you know, that's all well and good, you know. I got my first Exxon, you know, I got that first check which was nice.
And it was nice because I gave it to the research group and we actually had people out there
doing killer whale stuff before NMFS funded any of it. Because they gave me $45,000 and we had a nonprofit research group, you know, I went into that and we got --
so I had Eva -- other people were out there in these little boats going around keeping track of killer whales while I was doing other things.
And so I said, you know, I did my thing with Exxon at the beginning and they paid me and I’m done, and I cannot do this. And the bottom line was,
if I was to take that money and then I was to come out with some study or the studies of the herring studies that we were doing that I'd been part of,
you know, and it came to light that I'd been taking money from Exxon, it just would've been a mess. I mean, you know --
SHARON BUSHELL: (Inaudible) would have been totally compromised.
CRAIG MATKIN: Oh, I mean I couldn’t have, yeah, they would have nailed my ass which they’d love to do even to this day, you know, as far as all the science stuff goes. And they would've --
it would've been, yeah, I could have just totally destroyed me. And there had been no case against Exxon yet. They hadn’t agreed to pay the Feds or the State any money,
you know, so that’s why it was so important.
We had this $45,000 up front, you know, that came from my first deal, but I couldn’t go and take money for what I didn’t do.
So at any rate I had to just tell the guy to tear the check up.
SHARON BUSHELL: God. Well, so the way that you told the story it sounds as though that first check you weren’t even under the understanding that you were working for Exxon.
CRAIG MATKIN: No, no. The first boats that went out -- they had helicopters, you know, and were flying around. SHARON BUSHELL: So they just decided --
CRAIG MATKIN: And they just took the numbers and, you know, they watched to see -- they were watching what we were doing.
There were only, you know, I mean for the first week there were not that many boats out there. SHARON BUSHELL: Uh-huh.
CRAIG MATKIN: Because nobody was ready to go and -- SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah.
CRAIG MATKIN: Most boats were in the water and they didn’t have -- and a lot of guys wouldn’t go until they had contracts in hand.
SHARON BUSHELL: Right. CRAIG MATKIN: And that actually took some time.
So it was really weird that first week because nobody was, you know, there was nobody there.
SHARON BUSHELL: Well, I thought -- it was my understanding that the Coast Guard forbade for the most part people to go out there.
CRAIG MATKIN: Maybe. You know I don’t really know the details because I was there -- I was there, you know, essentially from the time of that first storm.
And I just couldn’t forgot, you know, nobody would show -- nobody was showing up and so --
At any rate. So they were keeping track of us and they had people out there keeping track of us and what we were doing that first period of time.
And that's why all of us that were out at the beginning got these checks, you know, because there was no, yeah, it was just -- they just put you on the payroll and they figured they aren’t going to turn this down, you know.
SHARON BUSHELL: Right. CRAIG MATKIN: So at any rate it was pretty -- pretty wild and yeah.
So we ended up doing the fish study and that was satisfying in the sense that --
it had some great people working for me. I got a couple fishermen to work for me. They basically said look you got, you know, here’s -- here’s the parameters. This is how much you can pay people. And this is how much pay for your boat and go for it.
And you need to take one of the Fish & Game guys from Juneau who set up these kind of studies before.
And, you know, you can help him lay out the logistics, do what you want.
Rick -- Rick and I are pretty much in charge, and had this one guy as an advisor and he ended up -- I don’t think even on the boat in the end.
But then we got a couple Fish & Game divers with us, and we went out and did this project, and it was really a gas in a lot of ways.
I mean it was a crazy oil spill thing, but we felt really positive about it, and we, you know, it was -- it was just something we could -- we could do right off.
It had to be done right away because the oil was coming into these -- and the herring were spawning right then, and it was just a crazy deal. And so we did that and we found out a lot of new things about --
for one thing some of the other predators on herring eggs because they're in the water a lot.
And we also shipped these eggs down, they hatched them out. They found there were defects in the eggs.
There were basically, you know, there were birth defects that happened because of it, and some pretty severe stuff.
And that contributed to the Exxon settlement, which we were pretty happy about.
And there were some long-term problems with the herring that did make it, you know, that did survive, but they still had deformities and stuff like this.
So that was good to know, and it was part of the reason herring were considered damaged from the beginning.
Now, there's a big debate about whether there's been lasting damage to herring and all.
We still -- we don’t fish herring anymore, which is a real drag, but --
So it was great. It was a good thing. I had a great time with these people, because they weren’t a bunch of Exxon people or anything else.
And we were -- we were doing something positive. And then we ended up doing killer whale work after that. So we were running all over the Sound in oiled areas and unoiled areas.
And as it turned out I got a whole team of people out and stationed them in different areas in the Sound to keep track of all the killer whales moving through the Sound.
And eventually we got National Marine Fisheries Service money for that. I can’t remember whether it was that -- it wasn’t until that winter. We didn’t really know we were going to get paid, but we knew we had our little Exxon grant from the begin -- or you know our little stash.
And so it was neat, you know, Eva came down and friends of mine, Lance from Vancouver came up. His wife Kathy came up. They're all experienced killer whale people and --
Yeah, and Balcombs came up -- Ken Balcomb and Kelly Balcomb, who are killer whale folks from Puget Sound area. They're still doing work. All these people still doing work on killer whales in other areas. We all worked as a team and it worked out really well and --
So that was sort of the story of the oil spill. I could -- for me, you know, and we were out -- I was out there basically until late that fall. I’d only spend a small time -- a small amount in town.
Finally, in the end I had to start supplying these field camps that we had to go in and, you know, get materials as we were going in and out more, but saw all kinds of amazing things. I mean,
you're watching the beach cleanup was just horrendous, you know. You knew in your gut that this was not the way to do it, and yet you couldn’t do anything because they wanted to display all these steam cleaning machines. And
oh, my God, it was -- it was outrageous, you know. The beaches were just --
just hammered and you knew this was happening, but what could you say. They were washing oil off, you know.
But, of course, in the end they've shown that there's been more damage by the basic cleaning of the beaches with the hot steam, and all then there was from the oil itself, so --
It was hard stuff to watch and, you know, we helped clean up a lot of the bodies of the birds and the otters in these oil streaked tiderips that would go all through the Sound, you know, we're all out there all summer, worst in the beginning, but
I remember Chuck Monnett who worked with -- for Fish & Wildlife Service then and I remember seeing him in his Boston Whaler. He ran around in that a lot. He and Lisa Rotterman and
my God I remember seeing that they had it just chocked full of these dead sea otters and the whole thing was -- it was a white Boston Whaler, but it was just black.
I mean, you know, but not black but that brown mousse color because, you know, it mixes with the water.
And once it mixed with water then it sticks on things you can’t get it off of anything. It's just like -- just worse than regular oil.
It's just awful stuff and just, God, it was the most horrendous sight, you know, but that's the kind of thing it was.
And then, of course, you had all these ships and all these people coming in and helicopters.
We’d be working on killer whales going down Knight Island Passage or something, and all of a sudden you’d look up and here'd be three helicopters following right over you and coming right down and forcing animals to dive. It was unbelievable.
Oh, just no rules. Yeah, there were just no rules about anything. And then you look behind you.
One time we had seven landing crafts all following us with these killer whales, you know, and just right on us, you know.
And I mean there was as many as 25 boats out following killer whales around because these people, you know, they just oh they got a skiff. I’m supposed to clean up. Oh, there's some killers let’s go do that for a while.
It was just unbelievable.
And they just dumped skiffs and airplanes and everything in the Sound. It was -- it was horrendous.
And you just couldn’t believe it would ever end, you know, that this was just going to go on for years.
And it did go on for a couple years, but the first was the worst.
It was just absolute and utter chaos and thank God, you know, now you don’t see that anymore.
And you do have quiet. But it must have taken five years before it really settled down, you know,
as far as the human impact kind of thing just from the cleanup people. SHARON BUSHELL: I'm going to check this tape.
CRAIG MATKIN: Yeah, that should have done --
SHARON BUSHELL: No, well, so tell me a little bit more about what you discovered -- I mean, so there were seven killer whales that you lost track of. CRAIG MATKIN: Right. SHARON BUSHELL: But --
CRAIG MATKIN: Okay, so killer whales swim in these groups -- resident type. The fish eating killer whales.
There's two types -- fish eating and mammal eating types that swim out there, same ocean, but they don’t associate and they behave totally differently.
One eats fish. Well, those are the ones we had the best track of and you see more of those in Prince William Sound than any other type.
And so when -- when they’re missing from their maternal group or their group the mother and all her offspring -- when you see offspring or a mother that's gone from this group than you know they’re dead. At least if they’re gone over the course of a season.
And so we didn’t know immediately these animals were all dead, but they -- they weren’t with their close relatives so we were very suspicious that they were dead. And then
after a bunch of re-sights, you realize, well, these animals are gone and they never come back. We've never had any of them come back or anything like that. So --
so we -- because of that fact that they swim in these stable groups we were able to determine they were dead. We didn’t find the bodies themselves.
Unfortunately, killer whales sink most of the time.
Once in a while you get a floater, but most all of them sink.
And we had some on beaches, but most of them did sink.
And so we lost those. And over the course of the next -- that during that summer and the course of the next winter we lost another six animals. So we lost 13 altogether up until that -- the end of the winter following the next -- the spill there.
So we lost a bunch of resident killer whales. We also lost a bunch of animals from the AT1 transient group, which is a group of killer whales that's considered depleted.
And it's actually considered depleted after the oil spill, but we lost about nine animals out of a group of 22 there.
And that -- we didn’t realize with the transients they’d always stay in their groups as tightly so it took years for us to be sure those animals were dead and actually some of them did wash up on the beaches.
But so we lost a bunch of these transient animals from a very rare population of transients that happens to use Prince William Sound.
And we didn’t realize what a big deal that was at the time.
We were more concerned with the resident killer whales that we lost, but now we realize this group may not recover and they're probably headed for extinction.
So the oil spill didn’t cause the extinction. I think they were having trouble anyway. In fact, I’m sure they were having trouble anyway.
But the oil spill put the nail in the coffin or the last nail in the lid of the coffin more or less and these animals aren’t extinct yet, but they may be in the next couple decades it looks like. So --
so basically we had a loss of a bunch of killer whales at the time or in that period following the spill and what we think happened is there was inhalation of oil.
That’s the most deadly way to be poisoned by oil. Eating it can be a problem and that may have occurred also, especially with the marine mammal eating types were eating seals that were covered in oil.
And that may have been part of the -- part of the problem with these transients dying. But
the inhalation greatly weakens the lungs, and if you don’t die immediately then you tend to die later. And that's why we lost a lot of animals, I think, during that following winter, as well.
Because there was a lot of damage to lungs. And usually killer whales die in the winter.
It's their stressful period and so at any rate we -- and these losses like what we saw were -- basically we lost 36% of this AB Pod and we lost 41% of the AT1 transient population.
You don’t see that happen like that here. Nowhere else.
And there's a lot of places now killer whales have been studied pretty closely and including our area and over the other 26 years, we've never ever seen anything like that in our 26 year study. Nor have people who have studied them for 30 years in Puget Sound and British Columbia and anywhere else.
So it's a totally unique thing and that's why I'm writing it up now and 18 years following the oil spill what can --
what more can we say about killer whales than we could right at the time.
And basically is that these groups have been damaged and they haven’t recovered.
You know, we lost all these animals and it's really beyond any reasonable doubt now that these were lost because of the oil spill, you know.
When we couldn’t find all the bodies, people said oh, fishermen came out and shot them and this happened and that happened, but, you know, if you look at in the light of all of the rest of the things,
and all the rest of the population, and the fact that gee these two groups -- one eats fish, one eats marine mammals and they both just crashed the same exact time. How interesting?
And they also happen to be the ones that use that western side of the Sound more than any other groups at the time.
So it’s, like I say, I’m writing it up and it'll be published in a scientific journal, and it should be this next few months.
And I’m just answering review comments.
So it’s -- it’s interesting you do this interview because I’m sort of tieing up all sorts of loose ends from over the last 18 years to sort of put this whole thing to bed in a sense
as far as killer whales go. And the story isn’t over because they aren’t recovered and they probably aren’t going to be for a while yet.
And the AT1’s may go extinct, the transient group, but at least I can sort of say look this is to the best of our knowledge what’s happened
and this is what's happened in the 18 years following. So --
SHARON BUSHELL: Just for clarification represents that AT1 that's just a region that's how you --
CRAIG MATKIN: The AT1 transients are a pod -- this is a thing you want to get straight. It's hard for people to get straight. We have AT1 transient population.
It's actually a population that only consists of 22 animals prior to the spill and we know that because of the genetics because we take samples of their skin.
And so it was a remnant population that was stable, but not increasing or decreasing when we first -- before the spill.
After the spill it poof, it's gone down and it probably -- it may have gone to extinction anyway, but this has definitely hastened it quite a bit and so --
and they're a separate group. And their population itself -- Okay, then we have this AB Pod, which is part of a larger population of resident or fish eating killer whales.
And it had 35 animals before the spill.
We lost 33% -- 13 animals at the time or immediately following the spill. And they have started recovering, but it's taken them years.
We lost a whole bunch of reproductive females and juveniles, so the reproduction was really knocked down, plus we kept losing animals for various reasons for a number of years after the spill, totally unlike any of the other pods. All the other resident pods are increasing at about three percent a year.
So these guys are still going down and now they are starting to come back, but at a pretty slow rate.
And it's going to be years yet and here we are 18 years after and we're still down about oh seven animals from where we were before the spill in this pod.
So neither have recovered, but the AB Pod should recover.
They've had some other problems, too, because of social structure changes because of the spill,
but I won’t get into all that. It's a bunch of subtle -- more subtle stuff, but
certainly there's been a pretty much an undisputed effect on killer whales and hopefully this paper will finish -- finish that off. It's --
and make it all even more clear. But at any rate that's sort -- that's sort of the deal.
SHARON BUSHELL: Okay. I must say. Far more succinct.