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Stricken seabirds dying in 'refined mineral oil' on south coast, say scientists

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: February 02, 2013

  • Staff at West Hatch Animal Centre in Taunton, Somerset, clean up some of the birds. The lucky ones will be taken back to the beach. Others have died

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Increasing numbers of stricken birds are washing up on the south coast after being covered in a waxy substance.

Wildlife experts were last night no closer to discovering the cause of the environmental damage, which has seen more than 100 seabirds taken into care at the RSPCA West Hatch wildlife centre in Taunton, Somerset.

Most of the birds, guillemots, were found at Chesil Beach, near Portland in Dorset. One bird was found alive as far as Worthing in west Sussex, and is now being cared for at a veterinary surgery. Another was found in the Isle of Wight.

Scientists are working to find out what the substance is, but earlier suggestions that it could have been palm oil have now been ruled out.

Around 200 miles of the English coastline is being investigated. The Environment Agency has taken samples of the water for testing.

RSPCA deputy chief inspector John Pollock, who has been leading the rescue mission in Dorset, said: "We just do not know what this substance is. It is white, odourless and globular, like a silicone sealer. The best way I can think to describe it is like 'sticky Vaseline'.

"The numbers of the birds coming in have been growing and sadly there were quite a few dead birds this morning.

"We are still down at the beach, though, collecting and trying to save as many of them as we can. We are expecting this rescue mission to continue through the weekend."

A Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) spokesman said: "This occurrence of seabirds being washed up on south coast beaches contaminated with a product is rare. We are working with partner organisations and agencies to deal with this event.

"The Environment Agency has taken samples of the product and is currently analysing it to identify it.

An RSPCA spokesman said they were pleased with the public's willingness to help the stricken birds, but warned of the dangers involved.

The spokesman said: "We would urge people to be cautious going down to the coastline affected.

"The instinctive reaction is to go down and look. But we don't know what this substance is, so our message is for people – especially those taking dogs down to the coastline – to please be careful."

The RSPCA centre at West Hatch took in 139 birds yesterday, but said 16 of those died. West Hatch manager Peter Venn said yesterday: "The current situation seems to be that the numbers of the birds coming in to us may have peaked for the time being, but that may change."

Supervisor Paul Oaten said they are using a process known to clear sticky substances in order to do the best for the birds.

RSPCA animal collection officer Steve Powell, 61, warned: "They do say that for every live bird that is taken off the beach there are probably nine others that have died at sea."

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  • Bleach  |  February 04 2013, 8:33AM

    Oh Christ, now you've woken Charles up.

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  • SidneyNuff  |  February 03 2013, 10:28AM

    Apologies accepted charles, yes you are quite right, a dead bird is a dead bird, whether we choose to eat it or not. Game pie has always been one of my favourites.

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  • Charlespk  |  February 03 2013, 10:08AM

    My apologies; of course it's 'Sidney'.

    |   -2
  • Charlespk  |  February 03 2013, 10:07AM

    Sydney are you not aware that it was quite common practice pre, during and after the war for farmers and country people to regularly shoot any songbirds that were attacking the blossom or the fruit in any orchards and turn them into pies for the table? . They were seen as a delicacy in those times. . Game is still eaten now of course as we both know. Several of my now middle-aged children's grand parents and great grand parents quite regularly had songbirds in their diet. . Even now in my life's experience, people out in the sticks have not been averse to eating a couple of pigeons from the 'loft' for Saturday night supper. The older ladies were quite capable of preparing those meals and many still are. . Horses were mainly working animals of course, but no doubt many that weren't too ropey found their way into the food chain.

    |   -2
  • SidneyNuff  |  February 03 2013, 8:58AM

    With the pressure on the food chain from an ever increasing world population eating wild birds (we already eat some) and eating horse meat (as they do in europe) may well be the future, however distasteful old ladies my find it.

    |   -3
  • lhasa27  |  February 02 2013, 9:43PM

    Sidney Nuff your quite stupid and sometimes cruel contributions to many of the stories that are shown here has put me off posting in the comment HE's online comment section ever again. It seems there are only a small group of the same names appearing everywhere anyway. I am now closing my account as you've brought it down to a very sad status, which it shouldn't be.

    |   -5
  • SidneyNuff  |  February 02 2013, 6:30PM

    Wrap it in cellophane and put it on the shelves at Tesco next to the horse meat burgers.

    |   -7
  • robocop1982  |  February 02 2013, 5:48PM

    more of the millions victims of crude oil drilling operations. some people are not aware that drilling for crude oil creates constant ocean pollution. EVeryday massive oil leaks pollute the oceans and people are never the wiser. bp have hushed up oil spills just as bad as the gulf of mexico disaster. what annoys me is people are ignorant to the fact that oil drilling cannot be done without major spillage. our entire economy is being driven by worthless products that nobody needs simply to line shelves. We need to start using more non crude oil products like corn oil plastic and natural mineral oil plastic. you could make hemp oil plastic. more people should use electric vehicles for short journeys and the petrol stations should start battery exchange stations with lifepo4 batteries for e cars and e bikes. THe problem is though that would harm petrol sales and that is what they don't want. its all about money to these people. power has gone to their heads.

    |   1
  • hantsbel  |  February 02 2013, 12:00PM

    This brings back memories of the Torrey Canyon disaster in the late 1960s, when seabirds in Cornwall were covered in oil after the ship floundered. My late husband was among many soldiers who took part in the rescue of the poor creatures. However this is beginning to look like a deliberate act of pollution and I hope they catch those responsible and severely punish them.

    |   2
  • SidneyNuff  |  February 02 2013, 11:31AM

    If this was a picture of chicken in sunflower oil would anyone be complaining.

    |   -8