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Aquatic goo that killed hundreds of birds identified by scientists!

Pelicans

The mysterious goo that coated the feathers of hundreds of aquatic birds in San Francisco Bay earlier this year and killed at least 300 of them, was identified today by scientists. It is a polymerized oil similar to a vegetable oil. A multiagency collaboration of scientists found that the sticky substance was a mixture of oils that contained polymers that gave the goo a hard, gummy consistency. The polymers were composed of fatty acids and triglycerides most likely derived from plants. SFGate.com says:

The exact oil was not identified, but it was clear the goo did not contain petroleum or animal fats, according to the chemical analysis. Left unanswered is how the substance got in the bay, where it came from and whether it was deliberately or accidentally released.

“This may be as close as we get,” said Daniel Orr, environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “I wish we had more to go on, but without a pure sample or new investigative lead we may be at a standstill.”

The fatty, oily substance was first detected Jan. 16 on seabirds on the east side of the bay. Fish and wildlife experts said it apparently started out as a viscous material and degraded in the bay water into a thick, sticky compound that was very difficult to remove from bird feathers. On some birds it took on the consistency of a hard varnish, compromising their ability to stay warm, float, fly or even find food.

Some 500 birds in all were oiled by the substance. The International Bird Rescue, in Fairfield, cared for 323 slimed birds and cleaned and rehabilitated 165 birds that were released back into the wild. The substance resembled dried rubber cement. The analysis involved the chemistry of various fats and oils and how they degrade in the environment.

Fish and Wildlife researchers and scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency, the California Department of Public Health, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration used at least five laboratories around the country in an attempt to identify the stuff, which had no detectable scent.

Those with information about the incident are being asked to contact CalTIP at 1-888-334-2258 or download the free CalTIP smartphone App. All reports are confidential, officials said.

-Bill at

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