Marine life in Santa Barbara, California is already showing signs of suffering after a faulty on-shore pipeline leaked roughly 100,000 gallons (378,541 litres) of crude oil Tuesday. By the time officials shut down the pipeline, nearly 20,000 gallons made their way into the Pacific Ocean, stretching nearly four miles overnight. Today the slick has expanded to cover nearly nine miles.

Crude oil not only ruins birds' ability to waterproof their feathers, but also cause adrenal and lung problems in whales and dolphins. The pervasive slicks have even been linked to deep-sea coral die-offs and heart problems in large predatory fishes.

Santa Barbara's stretch of coastline makes up part of important whale and bird migration pathways, and is critical breeding habitat for sea lions and elephant seals – making this spill particularly concerning. 

Perhaps most disturbing is the news that the busted pipe's owner, Plains Pipeline (a subsidiary of Plains All-American Pipeline), has had 175 spill-related incidents since 2006, including 11 in California, according to a Center for Biological Diversity analysis of federal documents. An analysis of data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration shows Plains' rate of incidents per mile of pipe is more than three times the national average. 

"Plains deeply regrets this release has occurred and is making every effort to limit its environmental impact," Director Darren Palmer said in an official statement. "Our focus remains on ensuring the safety of all involved. No injuries have been reported at this time."

Still, harrowing images continue to flood in as officials and volunteers rush to clean up what they can. "Oil recovery tends to be a complicated process that involves a lot of manual labor," said Coast Guard Captain Jennifer Williams. "It can be a slow process, but we want to make sure that we do it right."

As much as we all want to help, it's important to remember that injured marine life can be dangerous, and you should not step in on your own. For volunteer clean-up opportunities, or to report an injured animal, contact California Fish and Wildlife. Follow along with updates using #SantaBarbaraOilSpill.

Top header image: Tulane Publications/Flickr