It seems that scientists hired by Exxon say there was no lasting damage from the Exxon Valdez oil spill. What a surprise! However other scientists, local fishermen and local residents tell a different story.

If you ask Exxon, local animals are all on the road to recovery. The company insists the spill caused no long-term damage to the region. “The exposure to the remaining oil is very small and is decreasing,” said Paul Boehm, a chemical oceanographer and petroleum chemist consulting for the oil company in Alaska. Boehm’s job includes gauging how much oil remains in the Sound. He says nearly all that’s left is weathered patches of nontoxic oil residue and that the oil is in places or depths where critters like otters don’t dig and ducks and their food sources aren’t exposed.

The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustees Council disagrees. The council is charged with using the nearly $1 billion Exxon agreed to pay for restoration efforts in a 1991 settlement, and it pays for the continuing killer whale studies in the Sound. Oil buried in some parts of the Sound is still as toxic today as in 1989, said spokeswoman Rebecca Talbott, and it may be slowing the ability of species such as the harlequin duck to rebound from the spill.

And an already fragile population of killer whales that hunts Prince William Sound never recovered from the Exxon Valdez oil spill and is doomed to die off, according to biologists. Marine mammal biologist Craig Matkin of Homer has tracked the animals since the mid-1980s and said he never thought he’d see an entire population of whales — even a small one — disappear.

“To blame it all on the spill would not be fair, but that’s the final death blow,” Matkin said.