Shipwrecks may be cause of oiled birds

The Associated Press
Thursday January 17, 2002

ALAMEDA — Marine safety officials have eliminated raw crude escaping from fissures in the sea floor as a possible source of a mysterious oil spill that is contaminating birds from Monterey up to Point Reyes. 

“(We) are concentrating on historical shipwrecks as a possible source,” said Lt. Cmdr. Kara Satra of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Office in Alameda. 

The affected birds are mostly common murres, flightless birds that live at sea. 

The latest count of oiled birds put the total at 1,210. The majority were dead when found on the beaches or dead on arrival at the Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center near Fairfield. 

Of the 505 found alive, 284 died, 90 are receiving care — cleaning, feeding and rehydrating — and 113 have been returned to the wild, including 18 that were released Friday at Crissy Field. 

According to Lt. j.g. Tim Callister, a Marine Safety Office spokesman, the oil on the birds seems to have the characteristics of bunker fuel or heavy fuel oil. 

“If it’s a ship that’s down 1,200 feet or whatever, it’s pretty cold down there,” Callister said. “That fuel normally has to be heated to a high temperature to flow and burn. So that’s another confusing issue.” 

All the agencies involved have been searching historical records for clues about wrecks lying on the sea bottom, Callister said.