Bird killing substance is a 'refined mineral-based oil mixture' says Environment Agency (From Dorset Echo)
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Bird killing substance is a 'refined mineral-based oil mixture' says Environment Agency
THE mysterious substance killing hundreds of seabirds off Dorset is a ‘refined mineral-based oil mixture’, the Environment Agency says.
More than 250 birds, mostly guillemots, are being treated at RSPCA centres along the south coast after they were washed ashore covered in the white, sticky oil.
Many have been found at Portland with another 100 birds, dead and alive, recovered from around the island across the weekend.
The death toll has reached more than 250 seabirds so far.
Rescuers working to save birds at Portland said they spotted at least 100 dead birds in the water on Friday night.
A total of 30 birds were washed ashore at Swanage on Friday, with another 13 rescued from near Kimmeridge.
Wildlife experts claim changes in wind direction could have killed many more seabirds affected by the oily substance.
Marc Smith, of Dorset Wildlife Trust, said: “Our concern now is that the wind has changed direction which will start pushing the birds out to sea. As the days go on the birds will become colder and more exhausted, lowering their chances of survival.
“Birds may start to wash up in different areas now because of this wind change.”
Concerns have been raised over the long-term impact on the marine environment as a whole.
Mr Smith added: “Dorset’s coastline is rich in marine wildlife including dolphins, sharks and seals.
“We do not know if this substance will enter the food chain or if other animals are being affected.”
An investigation into the substance and where it came from is still underway.
There had been speculation it may have been palm oil, but scientists have now ruled that out.
A spokesman for the Environment Agency said: “The results show it is a refined mineral-based oil mixture, not from an animal or vegetable-based oil, which rules out palm oil.”
RSPCA deputy chief inspector John Pollock, who has been leading the rescue mission in Dorset, described the substance as ‘white, odourless and globular’.
Staff at the RSPCA West Hatch centre, near Taunton, Somerset, have been treating the birds using margarine and washing up liquid to clean their feathers.
Most of the birds – which have been coming into the RSPCA centre since Tuesday – were found at Chesil Beach, near Portland, but have also been found in West Sussex, Cornwall and the Isle of Wight.
Environment minister Richard Benyon has praised the rescuers and the operation.
He said: “Every effort is being made to identify the cause of this problem. I’d like to thank everyone involved and it’s thanks to their efforts that many have been cleaned up and now have a chance of survival.”
Don’t try to rescue them
DORSET Wildlife Trust is urging members of the public not to try and rescue washed up birds.
Marc Smith, of DWT, said the RSPCA should be informed if more birds are found. He said: “We know the public are keen to help but we strongly advise they do not try to rescue the birds.
“We do not want anyone putting themselves in danger and if the birds are not handled correctly they can end up exhausted which reduces their chance of survival.”
Contact the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999.
Coastguards try to pinpoint slick site
THE oil may have been discharged into the sea accidentally or deliberately, an expert said.
“Ships use lots of different mineral oils for working, you’ve got oil in the engines, a lot of hydraulic fluids, in the anchor winches, ships’ cranes and so on,” said Dr Simon Boxall, an oceanographer at the University of Southampton.
“Some kind of accident such as a leaky gearbox or a broken pipe is the most likely cause of a mineral oil spill, but it is unusual that it would cause this much havoc.
“So that makes one think it could be an illegal dump of cargo oil – oil that is being transported rather than used in the working of the ship.”
He added: “Until the Coastguard Agency can pinpoint the slick, and the size of the slick, it will be hard to know.
“Tracking it down is no easy task.”