SANTA BARBARA—These images of a blackened coastline and oil-filled waters flashed across newspaper covers and TV screens 50 years ago. On Jan. 28, 1969, a blowout at an oil well off the coast of Santa Barbara led to an estimated 3 million gallons of crude oil spewing into the ocean, creating an oil slick 35 miles long along California’s coast and killing thousands of birds, fish and sea mammals. It was the largest oil spill in United States waters by that time. It now ranks third after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon and 1989 Exxon Valdez spills. The spill was a catalyst to significant conservation efforts, such as the establishment of Earth Day.
Santa Barbara Maritime Museum photo