(NaturalNews) Companies carrying out large-scale industrial processes in the San Francisco Bay are expected to be under close watch after a mysterious substance contaminated the area, killing and wounding hundreds of seabirds.
The incident began when the International Bird Rescue’s San Francisco Bay Center started receiving an influx of calls on January 16 regarding the sighting of more than 300 seabirds covered in an unknown sticky substance. Witnesses reported seeing seabirds with gooey, matted-down feathers, a scene eerily reminiscent of the BP oil spill aftermath.
The “rubber cement like goop” was immediately ruled out as not being oil; however, researchers are awaiting test results to identify the unknown substance. State lab tests were able rule out polyisobutylene (PIB), a synthetic rubber, as the contaminant.
“We will be looking through our collective data on industrial processes in the East Bay to identify what the source might be,” said Deb Self with San Francisco Baykeeper.
Volunteers working around the clock to decontaminate seabirds covered in mystery goo
Until then, volunteers and bird rescue crews will continue working tirelessly to save as many birds as possible, using baking soda and vinegar to loosen the goo, following up with a little Dawn detergent and warm water to wash out the foreign substance.
More than 300 birds have been admitted to rescue centers, with about 270 live in care. Another 200 have been found dead, according to the California Fish and Wildlife department, which admits that the numbers are still climbing. The sick birds have been primarily coming from the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay — from Alameda south to Hayward.
“It’s a full-on mystery,” said department spokesman Andrew Hughan. “We have no idea what they are coated in and I’m not sure when we will have the answer.”
The majority of seabirds affected are diving birds, including surf scoters, buffleheads, goldeneyes and horned grebes, reports Bird-Rescue.org. The mysterious goo strikes at a vulnerable time for seabirds, particularly for surf scoters and western grebes, as their numbers are already drastically in decline.
Last summer, The Seattle Times reported that surf scoter populations are down 75 percent since 1997, with western grebes near extinction. Researchers are puzzled over their decline; however, some studies point to overfishing as the cause, which limits the seabirds’ access to forage fish.
Authorities conduct tests to identify cause of death
“Authorities are doing two lab tests to determine what the birds, which were found near the San Leandro Marina on Tuesday, are covered in: one testing the water and another examining the birds to check if they died of hypothermia or were poisoned,” CNN reported.
“I have been working here for 10 years, and I have never seen anything like this,” said Julie Skoglund, an operations manager for International Bird Rescue. Preliminary testing ruled out a petroleum-based substance or an organic product like vegetable or fish oil as being the culprit.
In the past, a natural algal toxin was found to be responsible for killing hundreds of birds up and down the Pacific Coast, caused by a die-off of plankton that released a soapy compound into water, contaminating birds’ feathers.
This time, however, globs of dark conglutination are being collected on beaches, said Hughan.
“That’s the interesting part of it,” he said. “There’s no sheen on the water. If you look really closely you can see tiny little droplets in the water. That’s what we’re dealing with here. We’re not sure what it is. We’re collecting animals as fast as we can.”
The die-off reportedly has not lost momentum, as rescue crews work continuously to clean up carcasses, as well as rescuing live seabirds.
Written by Julie Wilson