Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

January 19, 2015

Update: Mystery substance’s toll on Bay Area seabirds rises sharply

Photo of Horned Grebe being washed
A contaminated Horned Grebe is washed at International Bird Rescue’s San Francisco Bay center, photos by Cheryl Reynolds

FAIRFIELD, CA (Jan. 19, 2015 – Updated 9:15 pm) — The total number of seabirds reached 242 found on East Bay shores covered in an unidentified sticky substance the International Bird Rescue reported Monday night.

Of the 242 seabirds in care, 55 have been washed of the contaminant. 187 are being stabilized before they can be washed. At least 25 dead birds came to the Bird Rescue’s San Francisco Bay Center located in Fairfield.

Button donate to save seabirdsThree search-and-collection teams have found a significant number of seabirds affected by the substance near Bay Farm Island Shoreline Trail in Alameda, in addition to shoreline areas in San Leandro and Hayward.

“Our team anticipates washing between 40 and 60 seabirds on Monday, and we expect many more to be transported to our center,” said International Bird Rescue interim executive director Barbara Callahan.

“The good news is that we have modified our wash protocol and it appears to be working on healthier birds,” Callahan said. “However, some of the birds that have recently arrived are in much poorer condition, likely because they’ve had this substance on their feathers for several days now.”

International Bird Rescue has now set up an online form for public reports of beached birds suspected to be covered in the substance. Members of the public are not advised to collect birds at this time, given the unknown nature of the substance.

julie-margie-washing-seabird-mystery-2015-webOfficials are investigating whether the substance could be polyisobutylene, or PIB, which is sticky, odorless, largely colorless, and killed thousands of seabirds in the U.K. in 2013. “While on its face, this substance seems very similar to reports from the U.K. two years ago, we won’t know definitively until lab tests are completed,” Callahan said.

Surf Scoters, Buffleheads and Horned Grebes continue to be the most commonly affected species.

Because no responsible party for the incident has been identified, International Bird Rescue is currently paying for all costs associated with the event and is seeking the support of the public to care for these birds. Contributions can be made online at birdrescue.org.

4 Responses to “Update: Mystery substance’s toll on Bay Area seabirds rises sharply”

  1. Bethany Lacefield Says:

    i am appalled by what I see. It is an outright deplorable act by someone very callous and uncaring. I hope above all hope they identify the persons responsible. Thank you for your dedicated service to the wonderful bird life on this planet,without organizations such as yours we the public would be lost.

  2. Linda Dow Says:

    Please post an update on the substance ID when lab tests are done. This is tragic. I’m glad you have been able to save so many birds and hope you can save more.

  3. Jackie Says:

    Possibly could be palm oil: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2271691/South-coast-seabirds-sticky-ordeal-Hundreds-wash-coast-covered-palm-oil-fell-passing-ship.html

    Thank you for your dedicated work.

  4. Kelly d Says:


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