On March 24, 1989, the ship hit Bligh Reef near Alaska, opening a large hole on its hull. The ship was full of oil at the time, carrying a total of 1.2 million barrels (190 million liters).
Quickly, huge amounts of oil spilled into the ocean. In total, 265,00 barrels of oil (42 million liters) were dumped, 22% of that present of the ship.
Once out of the ship, the oil spread quickly. It ended up creating a 1,776
square mile (4,600 square kilometer) spill and gave 3,167 miles (5,100 kilometers) of coastline an oily covering.
The damage from the spill was tremendous. Between 100,000 and 600,000 birds, 5,500 sea otters, 30 seals, and 22 whales were killed. Many other animals likely died as well and were never found. Other animals, such as bald eagles, that ate the oil-poisoned fish from the spill area were also killed.
Though public outrage eventually mounted, the reaction to the oil spill came slowly. The Alaska Oil Spill Team was slow to respond, and by the time that work on cleaning up the area began, massive amounts of oil had already spread to a large area surrounding the ship.
The Exxon corporation was forced to clean up the spill and fined heavily for the damage it had caused. The company spent $2.2 billion for cleanup work, and the total costs will likely amount to over $4 billion.
A large amount of oil is spilt every year. In fact, the amount spilt by the Exxon Valdez amounts to only 5% of all that was spilt in 1989.