Dumping of oil blamed for death of sea birds
An illegal dumping of cargo oil at sea could have caused the deaths of hundreds of sea birds along England’s south coast, an expert has said.
Thousands of birds have been washed to shore along coastline that stretches from west Sussex to Cornwall after being covered in a sticky, oily substance. Wildlife experts and volunteers have gone to the shoreline to save as many birds as possible, and hundreds – mostly guillemots – are now being treated.
Scientists from the Environment Agency identified the substance as a refined mineral oil, but not from an animal or vegetable-based oil. One expert said that the oil could have been discharged accidentally or deliberately.
“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,” said Dr Simon Boxall, an oceanographer at the University of Southampton.
“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.”
Staff at a Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals centre near Taunton, Somerset, were last night treating the birds using margarine and washing up liquid to clean the substance from their feathers.
The centre was caring for almost 170 birds, and while numbers of dead birds are as yet unclear, one RSPCA officer said that for every live bird that is taken off the beach there could be up to nine others that have died at sea.
Most of the birds – which have been coming into the RSPCA centre since Tuesday – were found at Chesil Beach in Dorset, but have also been found in west Sussex, Cornwall and the Isle of Wight.