Mystery goo affecting birds in San Francisco bay

This story from two days ago is still a mystery. No word yet on what the mystery substance is that has affected the birds.

S.F. Bay bird rescue: Mystery goo bedevils experts – SFGate.

Rescue workers stepped up efforts Monday to save 300 seabirds found coated with a mysterious goop over the past few days that officials believe was spilled or dumped into San Francisco Bay.

The sticky, grayish, odorless material had killed at least 80 birds and coated the feathers of many more found Monday, baffling experts and volunteers who were frantically trying to clean the birds.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is planning to conduct necropsies and laboratory tests on Tuesday to identify the viscous substance and find its source. Volunteers and professional rescue workers were combing the shoreline Monday for more victims.

The substance is not petroleum based and no spill has been located. It is said to resemble rubber cement and is suspected to perhaps be synthetic rubber. It does not appear to be natural, but man-made and sticks to the feathers. The most common birds found affected are surf scoters, buffleheads and horned grebes.

Officials suspect the substance could be a synthetic rubber or fuel additive called polyisobutylene, a sticky, odorless substance similar to what was found on the birds. Polyisobutylene has been blamed in the death of thousands of birds in four separate spills in Europe, Callahan said.

The most recent spill, from a cargo ship, killed more than 4,000 seabirds along the southwest coast of England in 2013, Callahan said. After that crisis, the International Maritime Organization — a U.N. agency that sets safety standards for international shipping — began prohibiting ships from dumping all forms of the substance at sea. Polyisobutylene, also known as polyisobutene, is often used as a fuel additive to keep ship engines clean. The substance is not biodegradable and, according to an online information sheet prepared by Chevron Oronite, “may cause long-term adverse affects in the aquatic environment” if spilled.

We’ll follow up this story if more info comes to light. Kudos to the animal rescuers who can rehab some of these animals and release them again.

Photo: Cheryl Reynolds, International Bird Rescue

Photo: Cheryl Reynolds, International Bird Rescue

UPDATE: (23-Jan-2015) No solution yet: Mystery deepens: Prime bird death suspect ruled out – SFGate.

  1 comment for “Mystery goo affecting birds in San Francisco bay

  1. Perry
    January 21, 2015 at 2:24 PM

    Unfortunately, that’s a ‘drop in the bucket’ compared to what we’re doing to the oceans.

    Marine defaunation: Animal loss in the global ocean

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