Oiled migration

Nov. 17, 2007 | BERKELEY, California -- Every fall millions of birds fly south from their summer breeding homes in Alaska's tundra and Canada's boreal forests, bound for the warm climes and plentiful food of South America. Along the way more than 1 million stop, sometimes for the entire winter, in the San Francisco Bay, the largest estuary on the West Coast. This year the birds, some of them not a year old, alighted on the bay, weakened from their long flight, aiming to feed and rest for the long journey ahead, only to find that their sanctuary had become a toxic-tainted stew. On Nov. 8, a container ship, due to a navigation screw-up, struck a base of the Bay Bridge and dumped 58,000 gallons of fuel oil, a sludgy mix of kerosene, jet fuel and diesel fuel, into the bay. It could not have come at a worse time.

"Having the oil spill now is such a terrible shame because it means that many more birds are impacted than if the spill had happened even a month earlier," says Ellie Cohen, executive director of PRBO Conservation Science. Approximately 1,100 birds have been killed by the oil, but those are just the ones scooped up by an army of bird lovers spanning the bay and coastal shores with nets. Cohen estimates that 10,000 to 20,000 birds have already been affected, but only about 5 to 10 percent of them will ever be treated or their corpses recovered. "An oiled bird is probably eventually a dead bird," says Janet Hanson, executive director of the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory. "It's tragic."

source: salon.com