A rescue operation has been launched after more than 100 seabirds were washed up along the Westcountry coast covered in a sticky ‘‘waxy, glue-like” substance said to be palm oil.
The guillemots, a kind of auk, were found washed up in the white substance along the coastline stretching from Chesil Cove and Portland in Dorset to Torquay in Devon and down to Cornwall.
More than 100 birds have been taken to the West Hatch Animal Centre in Taunton, while many were found dead.
Scientists were reported to have tested the substance and discovered it to be palm oil.
View Oiled seabirds Feb 1, 2013 in a larger map
Most of the birds were found on the beaches of Lyme Bay, around Chesil Cove and Weymouth yesterday .
The Environment Agency and the RSPB earlier said they did not know where the oil had come from.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds took many guillemots covered in the substance to West Hatch but attempts to clean them have been hampered by not knowing what the substance is, Grahame Madge, of the RSPB, said.
“At the moment, the best guess is there are around 100 birds ashore and there are concerns the birds are affected in as widespread a region as from Cornwall to Sussex so we could be dealing with quite a large incident as all these birds could be proved to come from the same pollution incident,” he added.
“We are urging the government to identify the source of the pollution.”
Mr Madge said 25,0000 guillemots were using the stretch of coast.
The rescue operation is being run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA).
Tony Whitehead, from the RSPB, said: “We have had a few dead birds washed up over the past few weeks, but not this many.”
The RSPCA said many of the birds, which were ‘‘mainly being found near Portland, west Dorset”, had ‘‘very sore legs” but there was no number for how many had died.
Peter Venn, manager of RSPCA in West Hatch, Somerset, said: “We do not know where it has come from yet.
“It may be bi-product from manufacture, but at this stage we just do not know.
“We would urge anyone who finds any of these birds to contact the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999.”